Christianity 201

May 9, 2022

Losing Discretion to Short-Sightedness

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

NIV.Mark.5.21 When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. 22 Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet. 23 He pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” 24a So Jesus went with him.

24b 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.

[continue reading here]

This is our third time with Lily Pierce and her blog Retrospective Lily and although the blog has been inactive for many months, this is a good article which we hadn’t shared the last time. Click the header which follows to read it on her page.

Embrace Holy Interruptions & Be Gracious

This past Sunday, I had been asked to preach at a local Methodist church (due to my Lay Servant School training) while they transition to a new pastor. Fortunately, my own church meets early, and since the churches are in the same small town, I got to attend my church before giving the sermon at the other one.

The lectionary this past week featured Mark 5:21-43, which tells of Jesus’s encounters with Jairus and an unnamed woman as He and the disciples travel through a village. Jairus’s daughter is sick, so beckons Jesus for help. The unnamed woman also seeks healing, but rather than throwing herself at Jesus’s mercy, she simply finds Him in the crowd and touches His garment.

My pastor spoke about “holy interruptions,” which I thought was an intriguing takeaway. These stories are technically interruptions to whatever Jesus and His disciples had been on the way to do. If we look outside of ourselves and take the time to really see people and situations around us, and if we actively try to follow the Spirit, we might find that God constantly throws “holy interruptions” in our path–conversations and actions we didn’t intend/expect to have/take…but they were meant to be. Another word that’s often used for these instances is “divine intervention/interaction.”

I think of the good samaritan story here. The priest and the Levite missed the holy interruption God put before them because they were in a hurry…because they were putting their convenience before others’ suffering…because they were too stringent about the rules/laws.

It’s perfectly possible to justify their actions by pointing to said laws. Yes, it’s true that one would be ceremonially unclean for several days if they touched a dead or dying person, which would be especially inconvenient for a priest or Levite. But there are also laws about caring for your neighbor. God had already modeled unconditional love to them. So, to me, it’s a matter of discretion. They should’ve known helping a neighbor in dire need would be worth not being allowed to enter the place of worship temporarily.

We, too, often lack discretion…mostly out of selfishness or short-sightedness. The combination of those qualities causes us to lack generosity with time, money, grace, love, patience, peacemaking, forgiveness, etc.

I’m not going to call my grandma back because she’ll keep me on the phone an hour (But once she’s gone, will I lament how I clung so hard to my time instead of sharing it with her?) That friend hasn’t apologized, so why should I be the one to initiate reconciliation? (But once they’re gone, will I regret holding that grudge?) My fiance always leaves the coffee table a wreck, and the fact that I have to straighten it up makes me naggy and resentful. (But in the grand scheme of things, is it reallyyy THAT big of a deal? If he got in an accident tomorrow, would that matter to me anymore?)

Remembering that we all die and life is short, fragile, and unpredictable grounds me. Be joyful, be generous, love hard, forgive swiftly, all that jazz. Easier said than done, but yeah, worthy goals.

Anyway, my pastor also talked about peace. When Jesus tells the woman to go in peace, He doesn’t just mean to be well and be blessed. He means, “go in salvation.” Jesus offers peace that passes understanding. In my message, I discussed how Jesus offers HOPE to hopeless and desperate people.

It was an emotional morning. I got teary-eyed several times during my home church service and rode on the verge of choking up through my sermon. To me, this is one of the most stirring stories in the Gospels, period. And it’s ripe with important lessons on peace, hope, faith, mercy, healing, compassion, and more.

I’m thankful for that beautiful story and thankful I can write out my thoughts on it. Writing is a therapeutic exercise in reflection. I needed a little break, to remind myself that this is a hobby instead of a job–I’m not obligated to post week unless I want to–but I’m happy to be back.

In honor of today’s topic, shalom!

May 3, 2022

Much of the Teaching of Jesus Happens In the Moment

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Earlier today I was reading a commentary on The Lord’s Prayer which noted that in Luke, the text is offered in answer to a direct question.

NIV.Luke.11.1 One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”

2a He said to them, “When you pray, say:

“‘Father,
hallowed be your name…

However, in Matthew’s version there is no prompt from the audience is mentioned for us. It occurs in the context of earlier remarks, which are part of a larger discourse.

NIV. Matthew.6.5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

“This, then, is how you should pray:

“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name…

Given that this is in the middle chapter of a 3-chapter passage we call “The Sermon on the Mount,” it should not surprise us that Matthew doesn’t indicate that any interaction with the crowd was taking place. It appears continuous until the final close-quotation-mark when Matthew states,

28 When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, 29 because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.

For the most part however, Jesus seems to do what he does “in the moment;” with a measure of spontaneity that suggests “coincidence” which most of us would say is not coincidental at all, but rather divinely appointed circumstances.

In Luke 5:12, as Phillips translates it,

“Jesus came upon a man who was a mass of leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he prostrated himself before him and begged, “If you want to, Lord, you can make me clean.”

The phrase “Jesus came upon” is interesting here, because it suggests that regardless of who is traveling in which direction, a meeting takes place, and an act of healing follows.

You could equally say that in Mark 11, “Jesus came upon” a fig tree. There’s no miracle here in the standard sense — he curses the tree — but there is a teaching which takes place later in the day.

NIV.Mark11.22 “Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. 23 “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. 24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. 25 And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”

The whole scene appears prompted by the somewhat random encounter with the tree.

Again, in John 9, although we don’t have the phrase “Jesus came upon” used in any of our English translations, Jesus does encounter a man blind from birth. (Remember that Jesus and the disciples are constantly on the move; the itinerant or peripatetic nature of his ministry is such that they aren’t usually in a fixed place. Follow other rabbis if you will, but if you want to get your daily steps in, Jesus is the least sedentary.) The most significant point of the narrative is the healing, but the lesson in the words of Jesus which follow are a very close second in importance.

NIV.John.9.3 “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

So we’ve seen that divine circumstances precipitate actions and lessons from Jesus, but if we go back to where we began (“Lord teach us to pray”) we also see that many of his teachings are responses to direct questions. And there are many of them.

His disciples came and asked him, “Why do you use parables when you talk to the people?” (Matthew 13:10 NLT)

As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3 ESV)

There He saw a man who had a paralyzed hand. And in order to accuse Him they asked Him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”  (Matthew 12:10)

To be fair, Jesus often asked questions of those around him as well. (Several books have been written summarizing the things he asked.) But he also received questions from the crowd, the Pharisees, his disciples, and others. Part of this was the simply the basic method of learning in Jewish culture. (And often the response itself would be another question.)

But the thing that struck the writer I was reading earlier today was that the teaching on prayer occurring as it it did in the context of a sermon, was a bit of a rarity. Perhaps that’s why preachers — people paid to prepare sermons — hold Matthew 5, 6 and 7 in such high regard.

And that’s what got me thinking.

Should more of our modern churches provide sermon content which is in direct response to questions the congregation wants answered?

I know this flies in the face of (traditional church) Lectionary preaching, or (modern church) your teaching pastor’s penchant for series preaching — “today we’re starting a new series” — but I also know of churches that reserve Q&A Sunday (or Q&R Sunday) for the very purpose of addressing the subjects parishioners want to hear, and sometimes, the Sunday (or weekend) service is the only place where that can be done with the greatest number of people in attendance.

If you’re in church leadership, give that some thought.

If you’re not, either forward today’s devotional to them for consideration, or simply, with pen and paper or with email, ask the question you think is on the lips of people in your church, but heretofore unspoken.

Jesus crafted both direct teaching and parables “in the moment” to help us better understand the unfolding Kingdom of God.

 

March 30, 2022

Do We Really Want to Change?

NLT.John.5.1. Afterward Jesus returned to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish holy days. Inside the city, near the Sheep Gate, was the pool of Bethesda, with five covered porches. Crowds of sick people—blind, lame, or paralyzed—lay on the porches. One of the men lying there had been sick for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him and knew he had been ill for a long time, he asked him, “Would you like to get well?”   [click here to read the full account]

Today’s featured writer was recommended to us by a writer who has already appeared here a few times. The blog is called It’s a God Thing. Clicking the header below will take you to where we sourced it. There are also a number of other recent articles you might want to explore.

Will you take up your mat and walk?

I love this re-telling of Jesus healing the paralytic in John 5. It is by author John Eldredge, and appears in his book Desire:

“The shriveled figure lay in the sun like a pile of rags dumped there by accident. It hardly appeared to be human. But those who used the gate to go in and out of Jerusalem recognized him. He was disabled, dropped off there every morning by someone in his family, and picked up again at the end of the day.

A rumor was going around that sometimes (no one really knew when) an angel would stir the waters, and the first one in would be healed. Sort of a lottery, if you will. And as with every lottery, the desperate gathered round, hoping for a miracle. It had been so long since anyone had actually spoken to him, he thought the question was meant for someone else.

Squinting upward into the sun, he didn’t recognize the figure standing above him. The misshapen man asked the fellow to repeat himself; perhaps he had misheard. Although the voice was kind, the question felt harsh, even cruel. “Do you want to get well?”

He sat speechless, blinking into the sun. Slowly, the words seeped into his consciousness, like a voice calling him out of a dream. Do I want to get well? Slowly, like a wheel long rusted, his mind began to turn over. What kind of question is that? Why else would I be lying here? Why else would I have spent every day for the past thirty-eight seasons lying here? He is mocking me.

But now that his vision had adjusted to the glare, he could see the inquisitor’s face, his eyes. The face was as kind as the voice he heard. Apparently, the man meant what he said, and he was waiting for an answer. “Do you want to get well? What is it that you want?”

It was Jesus who posed the question, so there must be something we’re missing here. He is love incarnate. Why did he ask the paraplegic such an embarrassing question?”


And it does seem an obvious, strange question. But I think what Jesus is doing here, as John Eldredge draws out in the book – is asking the man to take ownership. Does he want to get well… or does he want to stay as he is?

You might say, ‘Of course he wants to get well!’ But sometimes we are so accustomed to living a certain way that we become set in our ways. We take on the identity of a self-sacrificial mum or a wounded soldier or a perpetual procrastinator… We become comfortable in our jail cell, so to speak. We talk so much about our struggles that they almost become who we are. Instead of seeking change or growth, or following our dreams… we maintain the status quo.

Do I want to get ‘well’? What areas in my life do I really want Jesus to help me with? May I never stop asking him for his leading in my life, his shaping of my plans. He is more than able to heal (while he may not choose to in the way we might think). He is also able to change, to guide, and transform, no matter how old or whatever life situation we are in… We are always part of his plan. But he does want us to ask. To be participators in the process.

After Jesus asks the paralyzed man if he wants to get well, he offers excuses and complaints about his life. But Jesus simply says to him: “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” He was cured straight away, and he did – he picked up his mat and walked. And later, he told other people about what Jesus had done.

Perhaps all God asks of me right now is willingness. Willingness to trust him with what I have, and follow. To be open to his calling, even if it’s different to what I had in mind. His plans. His promises. His joy and peace! To simply pick up my mat and walk.


There’s another article by the same writer that I think some of you might appreciate. It’s not a Bible study per se, but if the title intrigues you, check out The Morning I Became a World Changer, an essay on human trafficking.


Here at Christianity 201, Friday marks our 12th Birthday! That’s 12 years of providing a daily devotional, 7 days a week, 12 months of the year. I don’t get a lot of feedback, and can only trust that these are beneficial for those of you who continue to subscribe and those who drop by periodically to see what we’ve been up to!


If you need some lighter reading, feel free to check out page one of Ruth’s advanced essay in theological graduate studies, Cats in the Bible.

February 18, 2022

A Life of Calm

NIV.Matt.8.23 Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. 24a Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat…

So many times here we begin with, “Today we have a new writer to introduce;” and this is no exception. But before we start, I want to really highlight something brilliant I’d never considered before. The title the author gave her post — see below — is borrowed from a familiar Christmas carol.

Speaking concerning the birth narrative of Jesus, some preachers will describe a chaotic barn with animal noises and the baby — Jesus — crying. Did Jesus cry? I think we can get lost in questions like that which don’t really advance the major highlights of the story, but if you look at the larger story arc of the Bible, such as the passage she considers below, you could make a point that perhaps he did not.

Also, often a writer includes scripture references at the end of a devotional which aren’t directly quoted, but here again there is that element of a larger story. In Matthew 7 we read

24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

The house built on a solid foundation stands strong in the storm.

But let’s get back to that Christmas lyric and its connection to the actual text in today’s devotional. The writer we’re featuring is Wynter Kettlewell who blogs at Faith Inspired Tenacity. Click the header below to read this there.

Sleep In Heavenly Peace

But Jesus Himself was asleep.  Matthew 8:24

During the storm, Jesus was sleeping.  His rest was not disturbed by the rising winds and waves.  However, His disciple friends were not nearly as relaxed.  Unlike Jesus, they panicked and believed they were going to die.  They were afraid that this storm was going to be the end of them.  They were so distressed and afraid that they woke Jesus up to help!

What a drastic difference between Jesus and His disciples.  Jesus, unlike His disciples, was able to sleep and rest during the storm because Jesus was the Word, the Word that became flesh.  His life was built on the Word.  A storm is unable to destroy or disrupt the rest of a person whose life is built on the Word because they know the truth that God is over all things.  He could sleep in peace because He knew God was in control.  So in life, when the storms come and the pressure begins to increase and you see the waves rising and you think you are going to die, think of Jesus sleeping in the boat.  Be still and know that God is in control of it all.  And if you have to, do what the disciples did and turn to the Word for help.

Bottomline: A life built on the Word can sleep in peace during even the fiercest storms.

Matthew 7:24-27, John 1:14, Psalm 46:10


Bonus link:

So what happened next in the story? Wynter continues the Matthew 8 story in this devotional, titled How to Save a Life.

February 3, 2022

Responding To, or Reacting Against, the Authority of Jesus?

Thinking Through Luke 4:31-44

by Clarke Dixon

Does the idea of someone having authority over you bring out a positive response from you, or a negative reaction?

There is a kind of authority that we might dread, because after all, authorities can be dreadful. Some have had experiences with authorities that leave them scarred and scared. We can think of those who grow up under evil regimes or in abusive homes. We may distrust authority or feel compelled to protect others from it.

But there is another kind of authority, one which compels us to draw closer. I can think back to my favourite professor from seminary. He had authority based on his depth of knowledge on the Bible and history, plus the depth of his experience of life, plus the depth of his relationships with the students. His authority was not just by virtue of his appointment and title, but an authority based on who he was. Maybe you can think of an authority figure in your life, a person whose authority is a matter of celebration and not alarm.

There are authorities we want to run from and condemn. There are authorities we want to draw closer to and follow. Now which is Jesus in your life?

Looking around our society, there are many who celebrate the authority of Jesus in their lives. But then there are also many who would say “no way!” It was the same in Jesus day.

The Authority of Jesus

The authority of Jesus comes up a lot in our Scripture Focus for today. There was something compelling about the authority of Jesus with regard to his teaching:

Then Jesus went to Capernaum, a town in Galilee, and taught there in the synagogue every Sabbath day. There, too, the people were amazed at his teaching, for he spoke with authority.

Luke 4:31-32 (NLT)

There was something compelling about the authority of Jesus over the spiritual realm:

…Jesus reprimanded him. “Be quiet! Come out of the man,” he ordered. At that, the demon threw the man to the floor as the crowd watched; then it came out of him without hurting him further.
Amazed, the people exclaimed, “What authority and power this man’s words possess! Even evil spirits obey him, and they flee at his command!”

Luke 4:35-36 (NLT)

There was something compelling about the authority of Jesus over illness and disease:

After leaving the synagogue that day, Jesus went to Simon’s home, where he found Simon’s mother-in-law very sick with a high fever. “Please heal her,” everyone begged. Standing at her bedside, he rebuked the fever, and it left her. And she got up at once and prepared a meal for them.

As the sun went down that evening, people throughout the village brought sick family members to Jesus. No matter what their diseases were, the touch of his hand healed every one.

Luke 4:38-40 (NLT)

The authority of Jesus pointed to the Kingdom of God:

Early the next morning Jesus went out to an isolated place. The crowds searched everywhere for him, and when they finally found him, they begged him not to leave them. But he replied, “I must preach the Good News of the Kingdom of God in other towns, too, because that is why I was sent.”

Luke 4:42-43 (NLT)

By virtue of his position and title, of course Jesus has authority; He is the King of that Good News Kingdom! However, the authority of Jesus was perceived and well received by those who did not know his true identity. How Jesus was experienced by people was enough for them to find his authority remarkable and desirable.

But not everyone found the authority of Jesus to be compelling.  For certain people, Jesus was one to run from, and protect people from. They leveled criticism at him at every turn. They eventually had him executed.

What made the difference?

Why did some feel compelled to follow and celebrate Jesus while others felt compelled to condemn him?

Those who found the authority of Jesus compelling, who were they? They were those being healed, those willing to go deeper into his teaching, those willing to listen, learn, and change.

Those who found the authority of Jesus to be distasteful, who were they? They were those who thought they had everything to teach and nothing to learn. They were those who made claim to having authority themselves. Those who had a negative reaction to the authority of Jesus were those who had an inflated sense of their own authority. Reading more broadly in the Gospels, they also had an inflated sense of the authority of their own traditions.

What about today?

There are those who have met Jesus, who have experienced healing and change in their lives, who have gone deep into the teaching of Jesus. They have experienced the authority of Jesus and found it compelling.

There are those who refuse to meet Jesus, perhaps from inflated views of their own authority, or traditions they subscribe to. They do not find the authority of Jesus compelling because they refuse to experience it. They already think they know what they need to know.

But there are many who think they have met Jesus and have not found his authority compelling, but maybe they have not met him. It may be that some say “no thanks” to Christianity, and “don’t force your religion down my throat”, but if they were there with Jesus, to experience his teaching, his presence, and his works, would find his authority compelling and would willingly follow. They have not met Jesus but they have met Christians, and maybe our authority as Christians has not been as compelling.

Perhaps this should make us wonder if we are representing Jesus well in our day, if Jesus is so compelling, yet we Christians are not.

There are lessons here for those of us in authority, whether parents, teachers, coaches, or leaders of any sort. Never mind our positions and titles, how do people experience us?

How do people experience Christians who represent Jesus? Does it compare to how people experienced Jesus? Do people experience depth when we speak? Do people experience healing through our presence? There is a long line-up of people willing to express how their experience of Christianity has been one of harm and not healing. The Internet has given such folk an unprecedented opportunity to tell the world about that.

As Christians we claim a sort of authority with regard to truth and spirituality. We know Jesus is alive, we know about God’s love and grace, we know we meet God in the pages of the Scriptures. We are eager to share the good news! But if our authority does not come across as compelling, perhaps we have some soul searching to do. Are we submitting to the authority of Jesus? Like the Pharisees perhaps we have an inflated sense of our own authority, or an inflated sense of the authority of a specific tradition over and against our Lord.

Let us draw closer to Jesus, and experience the change, the joy, and the excitement, his authority brings.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada. He appears here most Thursdays, or you can find past “shrunk sermons” at his blog which links through the title above his name at the top of this article. You may watch the 22-minute sermon on which this devotional is based at this link.

January 20, 2022

Water Into Wine?

Thinking Through John 2:1-11 (and also thinking about “Conversion Therapy”)

by Clarke Dixon

  • The sermon on which this is based can be seen here

If you were allowed just one of Jesus’ miracles today, would you ask for water to be turned into wine?

You have likely heard of WWJD, meaning “what would Jesus do?” As we read through the Scripture Focus for today let us ask WWBD, “what would Baptists Do?” (You can substitute your expression of Christianity if you are not a Baptist.)

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6 Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8 He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it.

9 When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” 11 Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

John 2:1-11 (NRSV)

Had we been there when Jesus turned water into wine, we might have questioned what Jesus did. We may have asked:

  1. Why encourage the drinking of alcohol? It seems irresponsible.
  2. Why waste a miracle on a party? It seems inefficient. Wouldn’t healing someone from a terrible disease be more productive than providing wine for partygoers?
  3. Why use stone jars that were set aside for religious purposes? It seems sacrilegious. It would be like using a baptistry as a hot tub in our day.

Let us consider each of these questions.

Why encourage the drinking of alcohol?

Some Bible scholars point to the place of wine in the future Kingdom of God such as in this prophecy:

The time is surely coming, says the LORD,
when the one who plows shall overtake the one who reaps,
and the treader of grapes the one who sows the seed;
the mountains shall drip sweet wine,
and all the hills shall flow with it.
I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel,
and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine,
and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit.

Amos 9:13-14 (NRSV)

Amos prophesied that God’s people would experience judgement, primarily through an invasion of enemy forces. Though such an invasion would lead to the devastation of the land and therefore the ability to produce wine, the prophecy also looks beyond that devastation to a time of plenty, a time of blessing. When Jesus turned water into wine he gave a sign that such a future time of great blessing was near, and was coming through him.

Further, on the the day before his crucifixion, Jesus did this:

Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”

Mark 14:23-25 (NRSV)

Again wine is linked with future blessing in God’s Kingdom. It is also linked here with the shedding of Jesus’ blood, through which that blessing would be made available.

According to John, the turning of water into wine was not just the first miracle of Jesus, but more importantly, the first sign. It was a sign of the arrival of the Kingdom of God. It was a sign that the Kingdom of God would come through Jesus.

Why waste a miracle on a party?

Our scripture focus begins with, “On the third day.” Perhaps John is hinting at something else that happened “on the third day.“ The resurrection of Jesus is worthy of joy and celebration! The “third day” was a great day for a party. This brings us to the next point, namely that Jesus did not waste a miracle at a party, but again, gave a sign that God’s presence, specifically God’s presence in and through Jesus, should be joyfully celebrated:

Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “The wedding guests cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they?

Matthew 9:14-15 (NRSV)

There is much to celebrate with Jesus and the coming Kingdom of God including resurrection, re-creation, and renewal. This first sign of turning water into wine, pointed to a greater sign, the resurrection of Jesus.

Why use jars specifically set apart for religious purposes?

That Jesus would use jars set aside for religious purposes suggests that the religious life of the people had become rather staid and stuck in formal ritual. The worship of the Giver of life, had become lifeless. People were trying to do the right things, but often failed to do the right thing.

We see this, for example, in the parable about the Good Samaritan. The priests and the Levites were known for doing all the right things, keeping all the rules about ritual purity. Yet in the parable of the Good Samaritan they didn’t do the right thing. In fact some Bible scholars point out that it was their attempt to do the right thing in keeping ceremonially clean, that caused them to fail to do the right thing, which would have been to help the man left for dead. It was the Good Samaritan, and Samaritans were known for believing and doing the wrong things, who did the right thing. Likewise, while the religious leaders often condemned Jesus for not doing the right thing when he broke Sabbath laws, Jesus pointed out how he was doing the right thing in healing people.

Jesus came to bring something that lifeless religion could not, namely life. So here he is at a party, doing something unexpected, something unpredictable, something life-giving, something that inspired faith in the disciples. Using stone jars set apart for religious purposes was not sacrilegious. Empty formal religion is sacrilegious.

So what would we Baptists have done had we been in Jesus position?

I’m guessing that at least some of us, instead of turning water into wine, would have gathered up all the wine at the party and turned it into water. We would have missed out on the sign, the signpost to the Kingdom of God, of the life-giving, lively, exciting, joyful nature of the Kingdom of God.

Jesus knew what he was doing. Perhaps we might have done something different, thinking we knew better, but not really knowing what we were doing. Perhaps we still do this. Perhaps there are some things we do as Christians, as Baptists, where we turn wine into water so to speak, where we could instead provide signs of God’s Kingdom.

One example where I think we have been turning wine into water.

During this past week, it became law that conversion therapy is now illegal here in Canada. That is, to put it as simply as possible, it is now illegal to try and help a gay person become straight. Therefore there has been a call for pastors across Canada, and the United States, to preach on sexual morality today.

What I find strange is this: a conversation about sexual morality, that is, how one honors God, others, and one’s self with one’s body, is a completely separate and different conversation than one about so-called “conversion therapy.” Since the law is about “conversion therapy” I’d rather focus on that today.

Perhaps an illustration might help us start this conversation.

I have been described as being excruciating shy as a boy. Report card after report card said “Clarke is too quiet.” In Grade 6 the teacher called me out to the hallway for a private chat. “What do you want to do for a living?” he asked. I told him I wanted to be an airline pilot to which he responded; “Airline pilot? How are you going to be able to do that, for airline pilots have to pick up the microphone and speak to people on the plane.” Thankfully, I didn’t become an airline pilot, so I didn’t have to worry about that. God obviously has a sense of humor. My quietness continued on into adulthood and on a personality test I scored 9 out 10 for introversion vs extroversion.

So, what would happen if we created a world where there is no room for introverts, where one’s introversion is seen as something that needs fixed? Perhaps someone might come up with a therapy that promised to help introverts become extroverts. Those who score 6 of 10 on the introversion scale may find themselves seemingly more extroverted and the therapy may be hailed as a success. But people like me, scoring 8, 9, or 10 out of 10 wouldn’t experience change. Now not only is there something fundamentally wrong with us that needs fixed, but now there is something doubly wrong with us, for we are not fixable. We would become very frustrated in not experiencing change, frustrated to the point of despair. Some of us would take our own lives.

This kind of thing has been happening with “conversion therapy” for gay people all along. Actually it has been worse than my illustration of introversion, for not only have gay people had the label “broken,” but also “evil.” Making matters still worse, where we might have no difficulty having conversions about introversion, conversations about being gay can very quickly cease to be conversations. Bottom line: conversion therapy has caused more harm than good. People have been hurt, badly.

Back to the story of the Good Samaritan. What if, the beat up person left for dead in the ditch is the gay person who has been beat up by efforts to change him or her? What if we Baptists have been the priest and Levite passing on the other side, or worse, the perpetrator of the crime? What if the Canadian government is trying to be a Good Samaritan here?

There may well be nuances on the wording of the law that needs attention, but much of what I’ve seen in the call to preach on sexual morality in response to the new law has not been honest discussion on how awful conversion therapy is, but rhetoric about how awful the “gay agenda” is, and how persecuted we Christians are. We are not the ones left for dead in the ditch.

Perhaps we need to do some thinking about where we identify in the parable of the Good Samaritan. Perhaps it is time to think about what it looks like to turn water into wine, what it looks like for there to be signs of God’s Kingdom within the LGBTQ+ community.

As a ban on conversion therapy comes into effect, instead of rushing to pulpits to speak about sexual immorality, perhaps we should begin by walking with someone who is gay, taking time to listen. That means making time to listen. That also means making room in our minds and hearts to hear what is said. Maybe listening could be one sign of the Kingdom coming?

I will never tell my gay son that he should not identify as gay. He will never tell me that I should not identify as introverted. I have never stopped being an introvert, but I have learned, with stumbling steps sometimes, how to survive and thrive as a quiet person in a noisy world. Maybe that speaks to what should be our focus, not how we get gay people to become straight as conversion therapy aims to do, but how do we help all people, gay or straight, walk with Jesus in faith, hope, and love. What does water into wine look like in each person’s life?

Conclusion

Had we been at the wedding at Cana, we might have done things differently, but Jesus, being predictably unpredictable, did what he did, and and it stirred faith in the disciples.

We ask “what would Jesus do?” He just might do something surprising, something unpredictable, something life-giving, something that leads to joy and celebration, something that points to the beautiful Kingdom of God.

While we began with What would a Baptist do, the question here is, what will we do, to show signs of God’s Kingdom?

November 21, 2021

Four Snapshots of Gratitude…Or a Lack Thereof

 

As the United States gets ready for its annual Thanksgiving holiday, it seemed appropriate to share today’s devotional thoughts with everyone. The writer, appearing here for the first time, goes by the online name S. Joiner and their blog is called Basic Bible Thoughts. Clicking the header which follows will allow you to read this direct from the source.

Gratefulness

As I did a quick online Google search for the meaning of thankfulness and gratefulness here is the slight but important difference I found. Thankful is being pleased and relieved, whereas Grateful is showing an appreciate of kindness. Being pleased, is an inner emotion whereas showing appreciate takes some action on our part.

Gratefulness must start at contentment, (a feeling of happiness and satisfaction). Many of us may view contentment as giving up, having no desire or passion, or maybe deciding to settle. Together we will see how contentment is so much more and how gratefulness is to be shown.

Luke 12: 16-21            NIV

And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.

His first barn was plenty large enough to care for him and his family (if he had any). Why not share the overflow, give to those in need? Some might say that we should all prepare for a rainy day and for retirement. I would be one of those people, I prepare for just those events in my life. Then how much is enough, where is the line of overflow. The challenge centers more on the statement made by the farmer, “Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry”. He is missing a very important ingredient, “being rich toward God”. Finding contentment begins with understanding you are no longer yours, but His. You see He has created you with a plan, our role is to find the plan by finding Him. Seek first the kingdom and all these things will be given to you.

Jonah 4: 5-8    NIV

Jonah had gone out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city. Then the LORD God provided a leafy plant and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the plant. But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the plant so that it withered. When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, “It would be better for me to die than to live.” 

Jonah had just preached to Nineveh, and they were changing their ways. He wanted more, he wanted God to destroy them. Jonah makes himself a shelter, but he doesn’t seem to be very pleased, nor does it completely shelter him. It had created it with his own hands and yet that creation did not bring contentment nor gratitude. God creates a plant that towers over his shelter and provides the needed shade. Jonah did nothing for his current state of happiness, God did. I don’t see where Jonah even offered a thank you for God’s wonderful creation, yet he sat there waiting for God to destroy a city. When the plant, Jonah had not lifted a finger to build, was eaten by worms, he was angry yet again.

Luke 17: 11-17            NIV

Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed. One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine?

These ten men, lived outside the cities. They who were diagnosed with leprosy and were sent away with strict rules of conduct. When talking with Jesus they stayed at a distance. Jesus tells them to go visit the priest. As they walked, they felt and saw the healing power of Jesus create them anew. All they did was listen, walk, and obey. The joy and happiness of that healing moment was huge. Nine of them kept walking but one, just one, came back to Jesus. His voice could be heard as he praised God all the way back. Arriving at Jesus there is no distance between them, he throws himself at His feet. He was pleased, happy, and relieved. But don’t you see something more here, he was grateful, unashamedly grateful, change had come, but not through his power but the power of Jesus.

It’s just far to easy to walk though this life seeing only the hurt, the difficulties, maybe the heat of the day, or lack of room for all our overflow of stuff. The burden of life can become overwhelming, and I stop myself and ask, did I build this shelter or this barn, with my own hands? Can I find contentment inside myself, the answer is a resounding NO! Contentment is only found in the arms of our Savior Jesus Christ. As we are blessed, share it. When our life is not the way we planned it out, look toward Jesus because He can grow plants that cover you and offer shade from the heat of this life.

How grateful are you during this season of life? Are you angry, or is your voice wide open in praise? Hopefully this thought comes to mind, “how do we look beyond the challenges of life and develop that spirit of Gratefulness?”

Philippians 4: 4-8 NIV

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Paul encourages us to have joy always, become a gentle person. Gentleness is found in contentment, be satisfied with what you have in Christ, stop trying to build your own shelter. He is near and His ears are tuned to our praise of thanksgiving. When we fall at His feet there is peace. I love that Paul let’s us know that even he believes that this peace is beyond our understanding. But he knows that it will guard our heart and mind. Train you mind and your emotions, have them find the good, have them locate Jesus in every situation. All that is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy – think on those things and be grateful to God that he provides them.


Second Helping: This month we’ve been featuring links to read a second devotional study by the featured author. We don’t mind “edgy” topics, but even we have our limits! I say that to warn you that the second helping today (which didn’t become the featured article) is about spit. Yes, that kind of spit. (I warned you!) And it figures into scripture several times. Check out the article titled, Redeemed Saliva. (Before you click, can you guess a few of the passages referenced?)

July 3, 2021

Called to Foreign and Fear-Filled Places

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Today we’re returning to Jesus Unboxed, written by Rev. David Eck, pastor of Abiding Savior Lutheran Church in North Carolina, and Chaplain PRN at Mission Hospital.  All his devotionals are also available on video, the one for today is at this link. Click the header which follows to read this at source.

Calming the Storm (Mark 4:35-41)

“On that day, when evening had come, Jesus said to them, ‘Let us go across to the other side.’”

For those of us who may be a little bit geographically challenged, the “other side” of Lake Galilee was the land of the Gerasenes which, roughly translated, means “over against Galilee.” This was Gentile territory, the land of the so-called “heathens.” It was the place where Jews did not want to travel. It was the place where “those kinds of people” lived. And so, I’m sure the disciples looked at Jesus a bit perplexed when he told them he desired to travel there.

But isn’t that like Jesus? He calls us to go to places that sometimes make us feel uncomfortable. He calls us to leave behind the security and safety of the church and go out into a world filled with desperate people. A world that is in need of healing and hope. A world that has often felt rejected by the church and treated as “heathen territory.”

God’s people often hesitate to go to the other side, whether it’s a call to minister to the homeless, victims of domestic violence, the poor, those without the benefit of health care insurance, immigrants or the LGBT+ community. Typically, we like to surround ourselves with those who agree with us; those who look like us and think like us. We even select our newspapers and televisions stations based upon our beliefs and rarely consult those whom we view as being from the other side.

However, if I’ve learned one thing about Jesus in thirty-three years of ministry (Beside the fact that he passionately loves ALL his children), it’s the fact that Jesus rarely allows us to remain in places that are comfortable and secure. He often calls us to places that challenge us and help us to grow. He calls us to places that are out of our personal comfort zones. Because this is where he went while we has here on earth; smashing through barriers of culture, class, sex and race in order to transform everyone with the radical, inclusive love of God. And so, Jesus invites us to get into the boat and travel to the other side. We must make a decision as to whether or not we will accept his invitation.

The story continues: “And leaving the crowd behind, they took Jesus with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him.” This is certainly an unusual detail in the story. Mark is the only gospel that contains the phrase “Other boats went with him.” To be honest with you, I’m not exactly sure why it is there. But I do know that it means we’re not alone. Others have also accepted Jesus’ invitation to cross over to the other side.

It has been my experience that some of these boats come from other Christian denominations, Some of whom believe very different things about God than we Lutherans do. But they have answered the call just as we have. Some of these boats bear names such as Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and the like. They, too, have answered the call to cross over to the other side. I’ve worked side by side with these “other boats.” We’ve entered the so-called “heathen territory” together and ministered to the most helpless and hopeless among us. I know this makes some Christians uncomfortable. They would like to be the only boat on the sea. But our gospel lesson tells us there are other boats. I’ll leave you to ponder the meaning of this unusual detail.

The story continues: “A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped.” Storms come in many forms. Some of them are the diagnosis of a terminal illness, the loss of a job, or the death of a loved one. Our nation has been experiencing a great windstorm” this past year as we’ve faced a global pandemic, political unrest and conversations regarding systemic racism. Storms have raged, and continue to rage, all around us. They rock the boats of our personal lives, our families and friends, our church, our community and our world. This reminds us that no one is safe from the storms of life. We will all experience times of smooth sailing, as well as times when the waves crash into our boats and threaten to sink us.

The story continues: “But Jesus was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’” It’s what I call the “Big God Question.” The “Big God Question” sounds something like this “God why are you punishing me?” “Jesus, why did you let this happen to me, to my family, to my church?”

We all ask the “Big God Question” from time to time. It’s human nature to do so. When the storms of life rage all around us, it’s natural to wonder where God is in the midst of our suffering, fear and loss. Our gospel implies that we are tempted to think Jesus doesn’t care about our plight. He’s asleep at the wheel, or in the stern of the boat, as the case may be!

During these times of fear and uncertainty it’s easy for us to try and blame God or blame someone else in the boat as the cause of the storm. I don’t know why this is the case. But it’s hard for us to accept the fact that storms are a part of life. They are unavoidable. Some of them result from us making bad decisions. Others have no great evil behind them. They are simply part of the cycle of life that goes between periods of calm and storm.

The story continues: “Jesus woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, ‘Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?’”

The good news of our gospel lesson is that Jesus is NOT the cause of the storms that rage in our lives. Jesus is the one who is able to calm them. It has been my experience that the kind of calm Jesus offers us is not always smooth sailing and waveless seas. The kind of calm Jesus offers us is in here. In our hearts and minds and spirits. It is, as St. Paul calls it, “the peace of God which surpasses all understanding.” It’s the kind of peace that recognizes we are in God’s capable hands no matter what kind of sea we find ourselves in.

Perhaps Jesus’ sleeping in the midst of storm is not a sign of his indifference as the disciples indicated. Perhaps Jesus’ sleeping means he knew whether he survived the storm or not he was in God’s capable hands. Nothing, not even death, could change this truth. Therefore he slept, not as a sign of apathy; he slept because his heart and soul were resting peacefully in God’s hands. Nothing could alter this truth.

Now there is something to ponder! The challenge is for us to grow in our faith to the point where the storms of life don’t faze us in the least. This doesn’t mean we’ll never be fearful. It means we will remain confident that God is with us in the boat no matter how rough the seas get.

Jesus’ response to the disciples in our story is interesting. After they accuse him of being apathetic, he says to them “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” Some people may take this to mean that faith means WE have to be the strong ones. I think the opposite is true. Faith means we trust GOD to be the strong one in the midst of our fear and doubt.

You see, I don’t think Jesus was chastising the disciples because of their fear of the wind and waves. He was disappointed because of their lack of trust in him. They doubted his ability to protect them and see them through the storm. We’re not supposed to be the strong ones. We’re supposed to trust that God is the strong one. These two things are completely different. Which one we choose makes a BIG difference in how we understand the meaning of the story.

The kind of faith Jesus expects of us is beautifully defined by one of my all-time favorite authors, Frederich Buechner, who wrote the following about faith: “Faith is better understood as a verb than as a noun, as a process than as a possession. It is on-again-off-again rather than once-and-for-all. Faith is not being sure where you’re going but going anyway. A journey without maps. Tillich said that doubt isn’t the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith.”

So, my dear friends, there is so much we can learn from our gospel lesson for today. There is much to think about, pray about and apply to our lives. It is my hope that today’s story will challenge us to have the kind of faith to get in the boat with Jesus and sail to wherever he wants us to sail. To have the kind of faith that trusts his guidance through calm seas and rough. May Jesus be the captain of our boat, both now and forever. AMEN

Copyright ©2020 by David Eck; used by permission


Bonus article: Here’s another by the same writer, Growing the Kingdom.


Related: Reading the first part of today’s devotional, where Jesus takes his ‘guys’ to a place they might have referred to avoid reminded me of a study we did last year on the “Jersualem, Judea and Samaria” passage in John, and how the reference to Samaria is less geographic and more symbolic: Misreading Scripture with the Best Intentions.

April 20, 2021

“Don’t Be Afraid” – Not Comforting Words; It’s a Request

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:29 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

The title I gave our version of today’s devotional is my reaction to how this impacted me. It reminded me that the request Jesus made bordered on inappropriate, at least in terms of what you say to someone who has suffered great loss…

Today we return to Kristen Larson who writes at Abide.Trust.Believe. Click her title for it which follows and read this at her site.

Just Have Faith

But Jesus overheard them and said to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid. Just have faith.”
Mark 5:36

I have been putting off writing about this for a while, because the truth is I just don’t understand it half as well as I’d like to. I don’t understand how Jesus could tell Jairus don’t be afraid. Especially given the news Jairus had just received.

Let me set the stage…

Jesus had just arrived in Capernaum after being on the other side of the Sea of Galilee, and a large crowed had already gathered around him by the time Jairus arrived. Jairus was the leader at a local synagogue whose daughter, only 12 years old, was at home dying. Having heard that Jesus was in the area, he found the crowd and fought his way through it to reach Jesus. He then fell at his feet, pleading with him to come and lay hands on her so she might live.

Can you imagine the relief Jairus must have felt when Jesus, the man who worked miracles, agreed to go with him to his home?

But on the way there, a woman interrupted the procession by reaching out to touch Jesus’s robe. This in itself is an amazing story, but for now I want to focus on the fact that Jarius was forced to wait while this other woman took precious time away from Jesus getting to his little girl. And as he was watching Jesus speak to this woman, the terrible news he feared arrived: his daughter had died.

This is where my faith is challenged. Because Jesus didn’t weep with Jairus. He didn’t console him. He simply said, “Don’t be afraid. Just have faith.” But the thing was…his daughter had died. She was gone. In that single moment, the fear of her death became a horrible reality.

This is where I struggle. Because I can’t help but put myself in the shoes of Jairus. What if I had gotten news that my husband died and Jesus told me, don’t be afraid. Just have faith? I feel like I’d want to slap him. My grief would be more than I could bear. How could I not be afraid? How could I possibly have faith? This is a hypothetical situation for me, but it wasn’t for Jairus. And it isn’t for many people I know. So the big question is, how can this be encouraging? How can this be what Jesus tells Jairus? How can it put to rest my own fears of the future?

I don’t know. But I do know that Jesus said it – and it was recorded for us for a reason. And I also know that Colossians 1:15 says that “[Jesus] Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.” If I believe that, and I do, I have to believe that even in the face of death and worst fears come true…we’re to trust Him.

Even though I don’t understand this and it feels like an impossible thing to ask of someone, the fact that Jesus said it means it warrants my time thinking about it and praying about it.

There is so much of God I do not understand. But I really do want to be a person who’s first instinct is to trust His word and act on it, find comfort in it, and discover His heart through it. I believe that good things lie on the other side of our obedience – especially when we obey without fully understanding.

My hope is that in the face of fear, both life threatening and none, my knee-jerk reaction will not be panic, but trust. I want my heart to be ruled by Him alone. I want his peace, which passes understanding. I want to be less like the people of the world, and more like the heroes of the bible – who took God seriously.

The bible doesn’t tell us how Jairus responded to what Jesus said. So I don’t know if he was full of faith or if he fell apart. But Jesus went to his house and healed that little girl – she lived again.

I know this isn’t the way all our stories end. How I wish it was. But I do wonder what is on the other side of our faith when we face these kind of horrifying situations. It encourages me to think about how much stock I put into what God asks of me.

This kind of soul searching and asking these kinds of questions is hard…but I think it’s well worth the undertaking.

 

April 3, 2021

Below the Surface: Look for the Symbol in the Miracle

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
Tags: , , ,

NIV.John.2.3 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…

…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.

The most miraculous thing Jesus ever did was to conquer death, which we celebrate this Easter weekend. At the other end of the narrative, we have his first miracle at a wedding. These bookend that aspect of his life and they have much in common.

Today we have a book excerpt for you from The Problem of Jesus: Answering a Skeptic’s Challenges to the Scandal of Jesus (Zondervan, 2021) by Canadian pastor Mark Clark. (A sequel to The Problem of God.)


Bringing about revelation of God that leads to saving faith is one of the stated purposes of miracles the gospel writers tell us about. Jesus did miracles to reveal to the world what he came to do. Again, we see this in the miracle mentioned earlier, the turning of water into wine. John 2:6 tells us that there were six stone jars filled with water and then gives their purpose, which is the key to uncovering the meaning of the miracle: they were “for the Jewish rites of purification.” Why did John include this detail? Because John’s larger purpose was to show us through this miracle that the Jewish observance and ritual of purification was being upstaged and superseded by Jesus. This phase of history, where humankind connected with God through religious observance of rituals, was coming to an end. It was being fulfilled by Jesus and what he was doing in the world. Jesus was doing something new, and he was saying, “I am the new wine.” Religion was giving way to relationship.

Here we find the scandal of Jesus’ miracles, the real problem Jesus was creating. What he was saying was like a cultural hand grenade, upending centuries of tradition and belief. this would have been extremely offensive and controversial to John’s audience. How do I know? When I was in Israel a few years ago, I had the unique privilege of preaching in front of one of these big stone water jars at Cana in Galilee, where this miracle took place historically. The jar was up to my waist and must have been two or three feet wide at the mouth. My audience was a collection of tourists standing around as well as our Jewish tour guide, Abraham.

I explained what the story of the water being turned to wine was about, and later Abraham pulled me aside and asked, “Are you serious about what you said back there?” I said, Yes, of course,” He said, “I’ve done this tour with two hundred Christian groups, and I’ve never heard any of them get up and say what you just said. Do you really think that that’s what Jesus was trying to say?”

Here was a man who was religiously living under the idea that purification jars were still necessary in relating to God, and I was able to clarify what Jesus was saying. he began to grasp the idea that one phase of God’s work was over and a new had begun, and it hit him hard. As it should hit all of us. You can see why the miracles Jesus did were powerful, not only for the activity itself, but for what it meant about God and God’s work in the world. Jesus was not just healing people or doing marvellous things. He was more than a doctor or a magician. In every miracle, he was reinforcing what he taught: “I’m replacing everything the temple and all of the purification rituals ever meant or were used for. I’m here–and I’m shutting it all down.”

You can understand why Jesus’ audience often got angry with him. Jesus claimed to be bringing about a new era, or as John said, “The law was giving through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). With Jesus came a cosmic shift in how God related to the world, for Jesus was bringing creation back to what it was intended to be before sin and death.

What does this mean for you and me? It means that miracles are an invitation to all of us, God’s invitation to enter in and experience restoration at a personal level.

pp167-169


Excerpted from The Problem of Jesus: Answering a Skeptic’s Challenges to the Scandal of Jesus ©2021 by Mark Clark and used by permission of Zondervan Publishing.  Learn more at  zondervan.com


Watch a 90-second video with Mark introducing the book:

 

 

March 8, 2021

Jesus Changes Everything

In fear and amazement they asked one another, “Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.” – Luke 8:25b

Today we’re paying a return visit to Practical Theology Today. The writer is Curt Hinkle.

Get Used to Different

If you haven’t watched The Chosen yet, I highly recommend it. The developers of the project hoped to create a “binge-worthy” series and they seem to have accomplished their intent. I had a fever several weeks ago, was self-quarantined for a few days, and I binge-watched the entire first season (eight episodes). It is well done! They really do a good job of depicting the humanity of Jesus as well as his likely interactions with the people, especially his followers.

The creators did an especially nice job of surmising the interactions between the disciples themselves. Of particular interest was the interplay of the fishermen (Simon, Andrew, James, and John) with Matthew (Levi), the Israelite, turned traitor, tax collector for the occupying Romans. There was no love loss. When Jesus invited Matthew to follow him, Simon questioned the action, “What are you doing? Do you have any idea what this guy has done?” Simon, after reminding Jesus what this guy was a tax collector, said, “I don’t get it” to which Jesus responded, “You didn’t get it when I chose you, either.” Simon’s response: “But this is different. He’s a tax collector.” Jesus’ retort has become my favorite line in the series so far – “Get used to different.”

 Get used to different – an understatement to say the least. As I read through the gospels, I try to imagine what was going through the minds of those first-century followers. Almost everything Jesus did and said was different. I picture them huddled together, collectively trying to make sense of what was happening.

I recently read Luke’s account of Jesus calming the storm prior to a visit to the Gentile region on the East side of the Sea of Galilee (Luke 8:22-39). To this point, the disciples suspected they might be following the Messiah, the anointed one of God that would rescue the nation of Israel from the Roman Gentile dogs. But Jesus seemed to do things differently than they expected of a messiah and the trip across the lake didn’t ease their confusion. When Jesus said, “Let’s go across to the other side of the lake,” I could picture the disciples discussing among themselves, “Serious? The other side? That’s Gentile country. They are different over there.” Get used to different!

As they crossed the lake (about the size of Lake Mille Lacs in Minnesota), Jesus fell asleep and a storm blew in. After being abruptly awakened by the disciples, Jesus calmed the raging storm and they continued their journey across the lake. Though the disciples marveled at what they had just witnessed, it left them fearfully asking, “Who then is this…?” We think he might be the Messiah, but messiahs don’t calm storms. Messiahs position themselves to overthrow pagan kingdoms. This is different. Get used to different!

Landing on the the other side of the lake, Jesus and his disciples were immediately met by a naked man who lived among the tombs and was possessed by a Legion of demons (Who, by the way, knew exactly who Jesus was – “Son of the Most High God.”). Cleanliness was core to the first century Jewish religious customs. What we see in this narrative is uncleanliness at every turn – an unclean (naked) man, with unclean spirits who lived among unclean tombs in an unclean territory where they raised unclean hogs. Any respectable rabbi (and presumably a messiah) would have gotten back in the boat and left. I picture the disciples huddled on the shoreline next to the boat, again asking “Who then is this…? This is really different than we expected.” Get used to different! *

In what ways might we need to get used to different? As Christ followers, I think we need to be OK with different. I think we need to learn to expect different. In fact, as Christ-followers, I suspect that God wants us to step into different. The late Howard Hendricks used to suggest that we should always be involved in something that stretches our thinking and comfort – something different than we are used to. Different drives us to God and causes us to rely on the Holy Spirit. Different leads to transformation. If we are serious about following Jesus, I suspect we need to…

Get Used to Different!

* If you know the story, you know that Jesus drove the legion of demons from the man. Jesus was not defiled by the unclean man in his unclean setting. Instead “the holy contagion of Jesus rescued and transformed the man,” borrowing from Jim Edwards (Edwards, J. R. (2015). The gospel according to Luke, p. 249).


From Thinking Out Loud:

What if the books of the New Testament were arranged somewhat differently? If people can have fantasy sports teams, I figured I could imagine an edition of the NT with the books in a different order. Click here to read.

February 13, 2021

Filled with Awe

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

They who dwell in the ends of the earth stand in awe of Your signs;
You make the dawn and the sunset shout for joy. – Psalm 65:8

“Who is like You among the gods, O Lord?
Who is like You, majestic in holiness,
Awesome in praises, working wonders? – Exodus 15:11

They were all struck with astonishment and began glorifying God; and they were filled with fear, saying, “We have seen remarkable things today.” – Luke 5:26

Today our quest for new bloggers to highlight and encourage took us to the writing of Doreen Eager who lives in North Carolina. Her blog is Doreen Eager’s Blog, but she also reviews podcasts at The Godly Pod Review, about which she writes,  “My mission … is to help a weary Mom or Dad, who is hungry for God’s word, and wants to find Him in their daily lives but cannot find the time.”

Because what follows appeared just today, I’ve closed comments here so that by clicking the header which follows you can read this at her page and comment.

Awestruck by Jesus

The definition of Awestruck, according to Merriam Webster dictionary, is the state of being in awe. Awe, is an emotion variously combining dread, veneration, and wonder that is inspired by authority or by the sacred.

We all have things in this world that we enjoy, most would consider entertainment, or perhaps educational. Some love movies or TV, others prefer books or You Tube videos. I enjoy listening to Christian podcasts, it is one way that I can learn from other Christian leaders how they walk out their faith and interpret God’s will in their lives. It gives me context and at times allows me to ponder another way of looking at scripture.

When our outlook on people, who are considered to have a platform or are influential, becomes more than just respectful and moves toward being in awe, are we then turning these people into idols?

I follow many different Christian leaders; Beth Moore, Christine Caine, Annie Downs, Carey Neiuwhof, to name a few. If I am honest, which I am trying to be, if I ever had an instance where I could meet one of them in person, I would probably be nervous and a little fan girlish. I wonder if this is considered being in awe and if so I need to reexamine my thoughts of these people?

Jesus is worthy of being in awe of and we should be amazed at what He did for us some 2000 years ago. In Luke chapter 7 we see Jesus heal a widow’s son who died.

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. Luke 7:11-17

We are so blessed to have a high priest that came down from heaven, that has feelings as we do, and took pity on this mother. What a glorious and amazing day for that mother. To this day Jesus does wonderful miracles; a new day arrives, a baby is born, an answered prayer for a new job, and the Holy Spirit in us to guide our decisions on this journey.

I am in awe anytime I sit and ponder what Jesus did for our sins. The suffering He endured, and the level of restraint He displayed while He was being tormented. He could have taken out all of the Romans and Pilate with one word but He chose to be obedient to God’s will. “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.” Matthew 26:42

Doreen’s definition of awestruck is: Jesus.

January 19, 2021

There are No Hometown Prophets

Today I was delighted when my quest to find new writers to highlight took me to Let’s Talk About Jesus, the blog of Aaron Irlbacher, who is a Baptist pastor in Roy (that’s the name of the place!) in the state of Washington. I know I’m always telling you guys to click the links and read these articles where I found them, but today there’s a double reason for doing so, as I enjoyed reading Aaron and Jayme’s story of how they met and their early days of criss-crossing the U.S. for school and ministry positions.

So again, click the header below to read this at source. Aaron is currently in the middle of a devotional series from the Gospel of Luke. Because this was posted just hours ago, I’ve closed comments here today so that if you wish to add something you can interact with him directly.

A Prophet Has No Home

And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.  And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing. And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth.

And they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” And he said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb,’ “Physician, heal yourself.” What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.’ “

And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.”

When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff.  But passing through their midst, he went away.

Luke 4:20-30, ESV

The Pattern for Jesus’ Life and Ministry

This scene effectively foreshadows Jesus’ entire ministry.

► First, Jesus arrives to teach the way of God (Acts 18:26) perfectly. He is welcomed early on and acclaimed as a teacher sent from God by all who hear Him.

► Second, His teaching creates faith in some and anger in others. Jesus’ sermons are not for tickling people’s ears (1 Tim 4:3). His words divide, but not because they are divisive. The dividing happens naturally as the result of truth-telling. Jesus came to seek and to save (Luke 19:10), but men love darkness rather than light (John 3:19).

► Third, those who reject His identity as the Christ become infuriated and endeavor to destroy Him.

► Fourth, some of the same people who praised Him initially would join the angry mob, and the masses decide to put Him to death (Matt 27:20).

► Fifth, He survives their murderous plot but leaves them without any more revelation (Luke 24:6).

Do you see it? Jesus’ interaction in Nazareth is like His entire life in miniature.

There are no hometown prophets

When Jesus closed the Isaiah scroll, the entire congregation must have stared with mouths hung open while they thought to themselves, “did he just say what I think he said?” Some of them were so impacted by His gracious words and clear self-identification as the Messiah they asked, “isn’t this Joeseph’s boy?” The toothpaste was out of the tube. You can’t put it back in now. Jesus’ declaration was clear, and his audience did understand him. He knew their thoughts of doubt, and He knew their next question. All good teachers try to answer objections before they are raised, and Jesus is the perfect teacher. He tells the unbelieving what they would say next. You all are thinking, “What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well (Luke 4:23).” After Jesus tells them what they are thinking, He moves on to tell them why they are thinking wrongly. They had become so comfortable with who they assumed Jesus was that they could no longer objectively hear from Him. Jesus’ childhood friends and neighbors still saw a simple and relatively unimportant carpenter’s son, and therefore they could not recognize the true prophet. Their knowledge of Him as a lad was apparently so loud they couldn’t hear Him as the true prophet. That is why Jesus’ critique was “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown (Luke 4:24).”

If you had to choose between Jesus and a million dollars

It’s no secret that Americans are infamously materialistic. I wouldn’t consider myself materialistic, but what materialistic person would? We all can be distracted by stuff. While material things are not sinful to have or enjoy, the problem arises when our hearts become singularly focused upon something we have, or even worse, something we don’t have but wished we did.

Jesus acutely identified this problem in the Sermon on the Mount when He said, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money (Matt 6:24).” I prefer the King James translation that replaces the word “money” with “mammon.” Mammon was an old Semitic word that indicated more than simply money. Mammon was more like our word materialism than our word money, and Jesus was using the concept of materialism as a competitor against God for our hearts. Materialism easily turns into idolatry if our hearts crave something rather than God.

In Nazareth, though extremely poor by our modern standards, many of them fell prey to this temptation. Jesus addressed this sin within the hearts of His first audience. They wanted Jesus to do in Nazareth what He had done in other Galilean towns. On the surface, that is not a bad request. There’s certainly nothing wrong with petitioning the Saviour. Jesus often rewarded faith with compassion and gracious gifts of healing. What then was the problem? These Nazarites were wanting something from Jesus without wanting Him. This is a subtle distinction that we must learn and guard our own hearts against the temptation of idolatry. Idolatry may be described as adoring anything or anyone in a way that rivals our adoration for God. Natalie Grant sings this truth,

“Help me want the Healer, more than the healing,
help me want the Savior, more than the saving,
help me want the Giver, more than the giving.
Oh, help me want You, Jesus, more than anything.”

Amen Natalie.

Christian, we must open our eyes and unplug our ears to see Jesus rightly and hear Him truly. There is nothing that we need more in all the world than Him. We must learn from Mary, the sister of Martha (Luke 10:42). She chose to stay in Jesus’ presence to directly hear the Words of life from the very Giver of life. I have two hopes for you today. First, I hope you will day by day faithfully come to hear Jesus for yourself in the Scripture and not just hear from me after I have spent time in His presence. Second, I hope you will continually grow in your desire for Christ above all else. May God’s Spirit works in us all.

for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. 

Philippians 2:13, ESV

November 3, 2020

Seeking Knowledge When We Want Power

John 9.1(TPT) Afterward, as Jesus walked down the street, he noticed a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Teacher, whose sin caused this guy’s blindness, his own, or the sin of his parents?” Jesus answered, “Neither. It happened to him so that you could watch him experience God’s miracle.

John 9.3(NKJV) Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him.

If you’re unfamiliar with this story, check out all 41 verses of John’s gospel, chapter 9.

A year ago this month we introduced Wes Barry who is the pastor of Waypoint in North Carolina, a church he planted seven years ago. Today’s article is actually older than a second piece by him we shared six months ago, but one I wanted to share with readers here. Clicking the header below will take to this article at its source.

The Wrong Questions

Perhaps you have heard the acronym that the Bible is “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth,” to imply that the Bible is life’s instruction manual. Or, if you were like me and involved in FCA, you heard the analogy that the Bible is God’s Playbook. When I received Davidson’s football playbook, I received detailed descriptions of what was expected of me and how I was supposed to run a play. Though I rarely actually read instruction manuals when putting together a project, an instruction manual gives us specific step-by-step how-tos. As I have read scripture I have come to see how both of those are wrong. And they cause us to ask the wrong questions.

The ultimate problem we face is that through Adam and Eve’s eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, we have knowledge but lack power. For example: We know the impact of this virus, but we lack the power to control it. Knowledge without power is an extremely painful position to be in. Therefore, we try to minimize that pain through scientific questions of “How” and “What,” that give us a false sense of power. Yet, this causes us to fail to ask the spiritual questions of “Who” and “Why.”

Our industrial and mechanical minds ask “How” and “What” questions. Scripture, however, is answering “Who” and “Why” questions. If we approach scripture with a What/How mindset then we are asking the wrong questions and will entirely miss the purpose of scripture.

While the question in John 9 is translated into a “who sinned”—the heart of what they are asking is “what caused this man to be born blind?” They are seeking to capture the cause of this man’s difficulty in life—probably in an effort to avoid their own peril, or the peril of their children. They are seeking a rational explanation.

Jesus, however, re-frames the question. He tells them they are asking the wrong question—the question we should be asking is not “what caused this” but “why.” Why would God allow this to happen?”

Who and Why questions ask relational and purpose questions. They draw us closer to God, and once we discover who God is, we become aware of who we are and are not.

As John Calvin states in the opening part of his Institutes: “The whole sum of our wisdom is…the knowledge of God and of ourselves…the first ought to show us not only one God whom all must worship and honor, but also that the same One is the fountain of all truth, wisdom, goodness, righteousness, judgment, mercy, power and holiness…The second part, by showing us our weakness, wretchedness, futility, and greed, leads us to feel cast down about and to distrust and hate ourselves; and then kindles in us a desire to seek for God, since in Him lies all the good of which we are empty and naked.”

Once we realize who God is and who we are, then the only logical question becomes, “why.” If God is good, and I am not, then why is God allowing this to happen?

For this man born blind, Jesus is saying that the purpose of this man’s blindness was so that one day the glory of Christ might be revealed. His blindness revealed the futility of his efforts and his parents’. The man’s entire life—all the limitations that he felt due to his blindness, his parents’ worry that they may have caused this malady—was necessary so that on that particular day during that particular encounter Jesus could demonstrate his power to give sight to the blind. Due to this man’s life and testimony, one of the greatest hymns was written: “I once was blind but now I see.”

Now, finally, notice that this man’s healing required active engagement on his part. He was not a passive recipient but an actor in the healing story. While other healings occurred immediately, this man was commanded to go and wash. So once we understand who and why, it does not mean we become mere observers of God’s plan, but we must become participants in His mission.

 

 

September 8, 2020

Looking for Lepers

Today we’re highlighting a new author, Lydia Shearin, who writes at Soli Deo Gloria. Because this was slightly edited for length, you’re encouraged to click the title below and read this excellent article at her site.

Just one Touch

I have heard people say that the COVID-19 pandemic has been the hardest on extroverts, who have been forced into social isolation by quarantine, and I know many introverts who would debate that statement, but I think we can all agree that there is one group of people who have been hit especially hard by all of the social distancing and safety measures:

Huggers.

We all know at least one of these people who thrive off of physical touch, and will hug anyone and everyone, from their friends and family to the grocery store clerk. To these people, hugs are the best way to communicate greeting, farewell, joy, empathy, sadness, and many more emotions…

…I can’t deny that there is something special about our sense of touch. Have you ever noticed how many different emotions we can communicate through a simple touch on the arm, or a squeeze of the hand? As humans, I don’t think that God intended for us to live 6ft apart from each other. We were meant to be spiritually, emotionally, and physically connected to one another.

As I was pondering these things this morning, I was reminded of a powerful story found in three of the Gospels (Mark 1:40-45, Matthew 8:1-4, and Luke 5:12-16); The story of a leper that Jesus healed. Here is Luke’s version of the story:

While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” And immediately the leprosy left him. Then Jesus ordered him, “Don’t tell anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.” Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.

Luke 5:12-16

I believe this is such a powerful story because it shows us the character of Jesus, and gives us insight into how he reacts to us when we bring him our brokenness.

At first glance, this my seem like just one of the many healing stories in the Bible, but for the Jews, Jesus’ response to the leper carries a whole different meaning. For him to reach out and touch a leper would have been shocking, to say the least, and ungodly, to say the worst. To understand this, we have to understand how serious having leprosy was in Jewish times. In those days, leprosy had no cure. You could not just grab some prescription anti-itch cream and put it on. People did not realize that the disease was caused by a bacterial infection that could be easily spread, but they did know that it was very contagious, and so lepers were avoided at all costs. Because leprosy seemed to appear out of the blue, a person who had leprosy was often considered to be stricken and punished by God himself.

If you go back to the Old Testament and read Leviticus 13, you will see that there was a rigorous process to figure out if someone had leprosy, and the chapter lists some of the symptoms to watch out for. I will spare you the nauseating details in case some of you are eating lunch, but trust me when I say that it was bad. Regardless, at the end of that chapter, we get a picture of what life would have been like for a leper:

 “Anyone with such a defiling disease must wear torn clothes, let their hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of their face and cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ As long as they have the disease they remain unclean. They must live alone; they must live outside the camp.”

Leviticus 13:45-46

If a person was found to have a skin disease, they were to be isolated outside of normal society. They couldn’t work, no one could visit them, and no one could touch them. Because of the nature of the disease, they were either in pain or in an unbearable state of numbness all the time, and they had to depend on the generosity of others for their daily food and money. Not only that, their appearance was a badge of shame, as they were required to tear their clothes, wear their hair unkempt and call out that they were ill so that no one would come near them. Imagine if we did that today with other ailments. Imagine having to walk into a grocery store shouting, “Move everybody, lady with cancer coming through!” or “Don’t come near me, I have Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicavolcanoconiosis!” (yes, that is a real disease)   Imagine not being able to see your loved ones or hug your children for years.

In this context, Jesus’ choice to touch the leper was unimaginably shocking, but also so loving. Imagine, after not being able to touch anyone for years, the first touch you feel is that of your savior. that’s powerful. You can be sure that that leper never forgot Jesus’s touch.

But that is not all. There is another deeper, spiritual level to the story. Not only did Jesus heal the man’s body, I believe he forgave the man’s sin and healed his soul as well. That’s a big statement; let me explain. You may have noticed that after Jesus proclaimed the words, “Be clean” over the leper, he commanded the man to go and offer the sacrifices commanded by Moses for cleansing. Why? Not to receive spiritual or physical cleansing (he had already received that), but as “a testimony to them [the priests, scribes and pharisees]”…

…So when Jesus touched the man, he brought him ceremonial cleansing as well as physical cleansing. Yay! But there is one caveat: Anyone who touched a leper was considered to be defiled. In Leviticus 5:3-6 it says:

3 or if they touch human uncleanness (anything that would make them unclean) even though they are unaware of it, but then they learn of it and realize their guilt; 4 or if anyone thoughtlessly takes an oath to do anything, whether good or evil (in any matter one might carelessly swear about) even though they are unaware of it, but then they learn of it and realize their guilt— 5 when anyone becomes aware that they are guilty in any of these matters, they must confess in what way they have sinned. 6 As a penalty for the sin they have committed, they must bring to the Lord a female lamb or goat from the flock as a sin offering; and the priest shall make atonement for them for their sin.” 

According to the law of Moses, If a Jew touches someone who is unclean, he defiles himself and must offer a sin offering to the Lord to be right with him. So when Jesus touched this leper, he literally took upon himself the man’s uncleanliness. Now, although the man has become ceremonially clean from Jesus’ healing touch, Jesus would be considered by the priests and other Jews to be ceremonially unclean. He would not be able to have full communion with God in the temple until he had made the correct sacrifices for sin. But we know something that the Jews of that time didn’t know: Jesus didn’t need to make sacrifices to be reconciled with God after touching the man’s uncleanliness, because he was the sacrifice that takes away the sin of the world! Nevertheless, bearing all these factors in mind, it was a deliberate and conscious choice by Jesus to touch this man!

How easy would it have been for Jesus to simply call out to the man from a distance, “You are healed”? He had healed people from a distance before; he would later heal the centurion’s slave from a different part of the city. No one would have thought anything if Jesus stood back at a safe distance and spoke healing over him. The man would have still rejoiced, and the people would have still been amazed. But for this man, love meant reaching out and touching him. Love meant taking the man’s filth onto himself.

How often does God treat us the same way? When we bring ourselves to him, with all of our filth and sin and shame, does God turn away in horror? Does he stand at a safe distance from us and shout “Be Clean”? No. When we fall before his feet with nothing but lust, pride, envy and all the other infectious sins that we bear, he reaches out and pulls us close. He touches us, and takes all of our uncleanliness upon himself so that we can be clean before God.

Praise God we have a savior who is not afraid to get his hands dirty!

Yet we as Christians are often so unlike our Savior. We are quick to judge, but loath to lift a finger to help. When we encounter broken people with messy lives we say, “I don’t want to get into all of that.” We hide behind the walls of our church buildings and proclaim a gospel of radical love that we don’t live, while outside our doors there are hurting people who need the touch of a Savior. When God brings hurting, messy, unbeleivers into our lives, we try to love them from a distance, secretly worrying that their ways will rub off on us and our children.

Well guess what, Christians: Real love is messy.

If you want the Lord to use you to touch people, you must first get close enough to them to touch them yourself. And I don’t mean just physically close enough- I’m talking about removing some of the emotional “protection” barriers we put up and really loving people. And yes, they might curse a lot. And yes, they might have a drinking problem. And yes, you might loose some money, or “waste” some time, or get a little hurt, but love always costs something and if we want to be like Jesus we need to learn to accept the cost.

So my question for you today is this: Who is the leper in your life?

Next Page »