Depending on God for Our Sanity

When life’s difficulties strike, we need to rely on the healing grace of our Lord, who offers us comfort. While we are focused on this life and this moment, we should realize that His purpose is to prepare our character for eternity with Him. What an amazing blessing!

It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statues. (Psalm 119:71 ESV)

HOW MANY OF US who have become Christians, who have asked Jesus Christ to come into our lives as our Savior, have done so looking to suffer for that decision?

Most of rejoice-in-your-sufferingus probably have resonated to Jesus’ promise in Matt. 11:28-30, which starts with these words: “Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” and ends with these: “For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (BSB).

When it came to that moment when we raised our hands and marched down the aisle, or dropped to our knees and raised our faces to the ceiling, or even placed our foreheads to the ground in agony, most of us were not thinking of Ephesians 6:10-13, which includes these stirring words: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (v. 12, NIV).

Nor were we likely thinking of James 1:2-4 (NIV), “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

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WHAT, THEN, ARE WE TO MAKE of Bible verses that clearly foretell of suffering in this world as a result of our conversion? Continue reading “Depending on God for Our Sanity”

Jesus and the Two Blind Men

What a difference between Jesus and those who profess to follow Him. When He was on the road to Jerusalem to be beaten and executed for our sins, He had time and love and patience and compassion enough to help two blind men regain their sight. While He showed this love, His followers, who were not about to sacrifice anything for anyone, told the beggars to leave them alone. While we are called to live lives that are holy, no one comes to the Cross because of us; they come to the Cross because of Jesus and His love for us all.

Two blind men were sitting by the road. Hearing that Jesus was passing by, they cried out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!” The crowd following Jesus sternly told them to be quiet, but they cried out all the more. Jesus stopped and said, “What do you want Me to do for you?” “Lord,” they said, “we want our eyes to be opened.” Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes. Immediately, the men regained their sight and followed Him. (Matthew 20:29-34 NIV, edited)

IF EVER THERE WERE a Bible story that pointed out what’s wrong with the church and its mission outreach, this is it.

Here was Jesus walking along a dusty road followed by, what various translations call “a large crowd,” “a great multitude,” “an immense crowd,” — basically, the church at the  time — when they passed by two beggars on the side of the road. The beggars were blind and seeking alms.

jesus-heals-two-blind-menWhile they could not see the proceedings, they could hear the pounding of sandaled feet, the excited murmur of voices, and the general hubbub associated with the assembly of many people.

When they heard the commotion was caused because Jesus was present, they reached out to Him for help. “Lord, Son of David,” they called out. The phrase, “Son of David,” was the Jewish phrase for the long expected Messiah, so, in truth, they were acknowledging the Divinity of Jesus.

And what was the multitude’s response? The Jesus followers. The disciples, groupies, hangers on, and wannabes. You know, the church!

They told the blind men to “shush,” that they were a bother. Jesus’ followers (the church, at the time) was too busy following Jesus to pay attention to human suffering along the roadside.

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AHHH, BUT NOT JESUS.

He wasn’t too busy. He heard their cries for help. He stopped the action and called them over, and then, to check their faith, He asked what they wanted Him to do for them. Imagine that — the Son of God asking His creation what He could do for them. Continue reading “Jesus and the Two Blind Men”

Fearing to Trust: Do We Miss God’s Open Doors?

Asking Jesus to leave our village comes in different forms. We might ask Him to leave the job site, or our homes, or nights out with our buddies or girlfriends — whenever His presence is inconvenient to our desires. God knows this and gave us insight into our rebellion through a story showing townspeople asking Jesus to leave when He showed them grace and a light into their souls.

And they came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. (Mark 5:15 ESV)

And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region. (Mark 5:17 ESV)

THE LORD PROMISES GOOD THINGS for us — hope and a future — if we would trust Him, but so often, we shrink back into the familiar, afraid to take the next step.

What holds us back?

The synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) describe an encounter Jesus had with demons in the area of the Gerasenes region, where He dispatched a legion of evil spirits from torturing the town madman and sent them into a nearby herd of 2,000 pigs, who rushed down a steep bank and were drowned. 

The outraged and frightened herdsmen ran to tell the townspeople what had just happened (“ComWoman Sharing With Womane quick!” they might have said. “You won’t believe this! You know that deranged dude? And the pigs? Well, you’ll just have to see this.”), and the townspeople immediately ran to the side of the lake where Jesus was teaching His disciples. Once they arrived, they begged the Lord to leave.

What?!

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AS WE READ THE ACCOUNT, safe and comfortable in our armchairs, most of us cannot imagine how the townspeople could have begged Jesus Christ, the Son of the Creator, to leave their village, when He had just demonstrated God’s amazing grace by healing the town madman. Continue reading “Fearing to Trust: Do We Miss God’s Open Doors?”

Demons and Disciples: Two Responses to Jesus

Jesus shows us two responses to His earthly ministry. One is from the demons, who knew who He was and rejected Him; the other is from His disciples, who, through faith, followed Him, even without full knowledge of His person. Today, He invites us to follow Him on faith, not on knowledge.

The disciples were amazed. ‘Who is this man?’ they asked. ‘Even the winds and waves obey him!’” (Matthew 8:27 NLT)

“And (the demons) cried out, saying, ‘What business do we have with each other, Son of God? Have You come here to torment us before the time?’” (Matthew 8:29 NIV)

TWO VERSES APART. TWO SEPARATE RESPONSES.

In Matthew’s account of Jesus Christ’s earthly ministry, two radically different responses to the man Jesus were presented a mere two verses apart.

In the first case, His disciples — that is, followers of Jesus himself — expressed amazement that Jesus could be awakened during a storm and, 

Two Responses to Jesus - Winds
Jesus calms the raging sea.

with a single word, stop a storm that threatened their small boat. They wondered who He was!

In the second case, evil demons — that is, followers of Satan — cried out in anguish that Jesus, whom they knew as the Son of Almighty God, had come to send them to eternal punishment before their allotted time. They were inhabiting a man who lived among the tombs and, knowing Jesus would heal the man, begged Him to send them to a nearby herd of pigs.

How strange that those who knew Jesus were following the wrong guy and those who one day would shape the world for His Kingdom still hadn’t caught on that this was God’s Son.

True enough, the disciples knew Jesus was special. After all, they had obeyed His call to follow Him and had seen Him feed 5,000 men (and many more women and children) from a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish. Top that off when, in a desperate panic, they had just awakened Him from a sound sleep to tell them their boat was taking on water in a sudden storm.

Jesus-heals-troubled-man
Jesus heals a troubled man.

Even so, they weren’t quite sure what to make of it all.

The demons knew. James, a half-brother to Jesus, assures us in his New Testament letter that “the demons believe … and shudder” (James 2:19 NIV). So, the point is made that, at least with Jesus Christ, seeing is not the same as believing.

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AT FIRST GLANCE, it would seem that the demons were more in tune with the Creator of the universe than the apostles were, even though the twelve men watched the Lord daily heal the physically and mentally ill and teach with authority in the various synagogues. Continue reading “Demons and Disciples: Two Responses to Jesus”

Stop Being Angry: What Purpose Does It Serve?

God’s Word is clear that mankind should be slow to anger and quicker to listen to others and to love one another. Why, then, is God’s anger okay? We see that His anger is based on His righteousness, whereas our anger is based on our sinfulness — our pride, selfishness, and greed. Relying on His grace, we can show His love to a broken world.

“Stop being angry! Turn from your rage! Do not lose your temper—it only leads to harm.” Psalm 37:8 (NLT)

“He who is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who is quick-temperated exalts folly.” Proverbs 14:29 (NASB)

“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.” Ephesians 4:31 (ESV)

“In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.” Ephesians 4:26 (NIV)

WHAT GOOD PURPOSE DOES ANGER SERVE? The Bible is filled with admonition against human anger, while it promotes God’s righteous wrath.

So, what’s the difference? Why is it okay for Almighty God to be angry, but not us? Perhaps the key is not who is getting angry but why the person is angry.

Let’s take a look at God’s anger.

Theologian J.I. Packer says that God’s anger, as described in His Word, “is never the capricious, self-indulgent, irritable, God's Righteous Angermorally ignoble thing” that often marks human anger but “a right and necessary reaction to objective moral evil.”

God hates human sin. He gave us His commandments to steer us in the right direction. The first four tell us to love and honor God; the remainder tell us to love and honor one another. He gets angry — and rightly so — when we fail to do that. Continue reading “Stop Being Angry: What Purpose Does It Serve?”

Failing to See the Truth; Do We Miss Seeing Jesus?

Our broken world seeks answers to troubling questions, yet when God reaches into our lives with grace, too many people miss it or reject it. Let us pray that, in our lives, we will accept His redeeming offer.

He (man formerly blind) replied, ‘The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see.’” John 9:11 (NIV)

“The man (formerly blind) answered, ‘Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly person who does his will.’” John 9:30-31 (NIV)

HOW COULD THIS POSSIBLY BE?

Jesus passes by a man who we learn is blind from birth, takes pity on him, and without asking if the man wants to see, makes some mud from dirt in the ground, rubs it  on the man’s eyes, and tells him to “go” wash the mud off in the Pool of Siloam. The man does as he’s told and, lo, he can see!

Jesus Heals Blind ManIncredible for several reasons: one, unlike most of the Bible stories where Jesus applies His healing touch, there is no record in the Scriptures that the man asked anything of Jesus; and, two, there is no record in the Scriptures as to what would happen to the man if he obeyed Jesus.

In fact, John’s account of the encounter tells us the man didn’t even know who Jesus was!

Jesus was telling His disciples several truths here, two of which we’ll cover: one is that, as God, He could give the man sight, not merely restore the man’s sight, for the man was born blind and, therefore, had never seen; and two, that as God, He was Lord of the Sabbath and the Sabbath was made for man, not the other way around.

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OH, THAT SABBATH THING AGAIN.

How is that significant?

Well, this where the story, which begins as a really nice story of Jesus healing a blind man and everyone lives happily ever after, turns ugly. Really ugly. (It ends well, but we have to go through the ugly part first.)

John tells us in v. 13 that “they” brought to the Pharisees the man who had been born blind and now could see. The Pharisees were the religious leaders of the day and, basically, busybodies who had arrogated to themselves the job of putting everyone else down to puff themselves up.

 

Rest Area SabbathIn this case, they actually find fault with Jesus—who, let’s remember, had just given the gift of sight to a man who had never, ever, from Day One, been able to see—simply because He healed the man on the Sabbath, the Day of Rest.

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THE PHARISEES COULDN’T GET OVER THAT FACT.

Yes, Jesus healed on the Day of Rest, which violated the Pharisee’s law. True, the Pharisees based their regulations on God’s commandment to honor the Sabbath and keep it holy, but Jesus tells us the purpose of the Sabbath was to give men a day of rest, not to set on men a whole new set of burdens that made that rest difficult.

Jesus routinely challenged the Pharisees, telling them in Matthew 12:8 (NIV) that “the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” In other words, He was saying it is MY  commandment to keep the Sabbath holy, so listen to me when I tell you you’re not honoring it the way I intended.

So, the Pharisees went to work doing what they did best — making things difficult for the flock.

First, they called the formerly blind man to the Temple to tell them who had healed him and how. Were they thrilled that the man could see? No, they were angry that he was healed on the Sabbath. By the way, they, like many in their day, thought the man’s congenital blindness was caused either by his prenatal sin or their parents sin, whatever that might have been, so, in their minds, he had no business being healed in the first place.

Then, because Jesus healed the man on the Sabbath, they concluded that Jesus, the Son of God, could not have been sent from God.

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NEXT, THEY CALLED THE MAN’S PARENTS IN.

They questioned them as to whether this man, now able to see, was actually their son and had been born blind.

Did the parents express gratitude to Jesus for His healing grace? No, they were more afraid of the Jewish leaders and being thrown out of the Temple than they were of the God they claimed to serve. They said they didn’t know how their son was healed nor who healed him. They didn’t seem all that interested in finding out, either.

So, the Pharisees calledBlind Man Thrown Out the man back in after his parents had left and again asked him how it was he could see. The man, exasperated at this point, asked if their interest  meant they, also, wanted to believe in the man who had healed him.

Instead of saying “Yes,” which seems the reasonable thing to have done, they insulted the man for daring to suggest they were in need of the Lord’s healing grace and threw him out of the Temple, effectively cutting him off from polite society.

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THE STORY ENDS ON A HIGH NOTE.

When Jesus heard the man had been thrown out of the Temple, He found the man and asked him, “‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’”

The man replied that he was not sure who the Son of Man was, but he certainly was willing to believe. When Jesus then said, “‘You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you,’” the man replied in the way we would have hoped the Pharisees and the man’s mother and father would have replied, “‘Lord, I believe,’ and he worshipped him.” (vv 35-38).

We need to pause here. Let’s count up the number of people who have touched this story. There’s Jesus and the man born blind, his two parents, maybe 30-50 Pharisees, probably a dozen or two neighbors and townsfolk who saw Jesus apply JesusTruth Sabbathmud to the man’s eyes and later saw him with restored sight (plus those who heard the story and those who heard the story from them), and we count up at least 50 people, maybe 100, excluding the disciples, who already believed in Jesus.

Yet only one of them — the man healed, the man ostracized from community, the man virtually disowned by his parents — only that man saw Truth when Truth stood in front of  him.

The rest of the cast missed it completely.

Jesus concluded this vignette by rebuking the Pharisees in front of the townspeople, humbling them in front of those who, themselves, could not see, and reassuring those of us who do believe in Him that He came into the world to give sight to us when we were blind in our sin.

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THIS IS A STORY OF REMARKABLE GRACE on Jesus’ part, yet it captures so painfully the broken state of today’s world.

Even when Truth — God’s remarkable Grace offered to us with no strings — is offered to us and standing right in front of us, most people don’t even see it. Even when they get a glimpse of it, they don’t want it.

Sadly, John was right when he told us (John 3:19 NIV) that Jesus, the Light, had come into the world, but His own creation rejected him because “[they] loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.”

As sad as that is, sadder still is the world’s continuing failure to see the Truth, the Light of the world. Are we failing to see Jesus in our own lives? Do we miss him when He is standing right in front of us?

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PRAYER: O LORD, Our Heavenly and Gracious Father, we are in desperate need of Your healing grace, your loving arms, your comforting smile. We know our sin keeps us from complete fellowship with You, so we would ask You to expose our sin, lead us to repentance, and restore us to a right relationship with You. In Jesus’ Holy Name.  Amen

Will Christians Lead Political Debate or Abdicate Responsibility?

God’s sovereignty prevails over the course of men’s lives. His will will be done, regardless of man’s great plans. When countries ignore His moral laws and applaud those who flaunt them, He has said He will withdraw the hand that restrains sin and evil and leave us to our depraved selves. Is that a society we want for ourselves? Christians must lead as “light and salt” of the world, defending God’s moral law and conducting ourselves in civic affairs with love and humility.

“Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind” (Rom. 1:28 NIV)

“The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” (Psalms 14:1 NIV)

“I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.” (Deuteronomy 30:19).

Two thoughts on the 2016 U.S. political season, a brief analysis, and a conclusion:

First Thought: the electorate is angry and divided. During the primaries, three candidates (Republicans Donald Trump & Ted Cruz; Democrat Bernie Sanders) led a populist assault against Washington. 

Christian-Civil GovernmentTrump alone survived, leading to a predictable result: Old Guard politicians and establishment figures from both parties joining forces against Trump, their common foe. Too soon to tell if the electorate, wearied from a year of politics, will yawn and back the establishment candidate or continue the assault and overturn the status quo.

Second Thought: the real possibility that Almighty God is withdrawing his protective hand as our country’s arrogant leaders—and a growing number of private citizens—ignore His biblical instructions for our lives.

The apostle Paul wrote: “And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper” (Romans 1:28 NASB) and again: “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them” (Romans 1:18-19 NIV).

Old Testament prophets told rebellious Israel that, “It’s your sins that have cut you off from God” (Isaiah 59:2 NLT) and “Have you not brought this upon yourself by forsaking the LORD your God?” (Jeremiah 2:17 ESV). King David, who lived under the covenant before the Cross, was so fearful of God’s rebuke for his sins, that he prayed: “Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me” (Psalm 51:11 NIV).

While God after the Cross will not remove the Holy Spirit from His believers, calling His gift “a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance” (Ephesians 1:14), nevertheless, continued disobedience on our parts still erects a barrier between us and the God of mercy. This grieves the Lord who has assured us it is our obedience and salvation that He wants to see: “For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:9).

Analysis: Christian values, as many have seen, have given modern society so much to cherish — among them hospitals, civil liberties, abolition of slavery, modern science, elevation of women, and regard for human life — against the shameful record of non-believers fomenting devastation and suffering on their own people.

The difficulty with discussing civic matters from a biblical perspective is that the Bible is clear only that some matters pertain to God and His affairs while others pertain to the state. Unfortunately for U.S. society, our national government now is usurping the moral sphere, replacing God’s moral law with political policy and defending that usurpation on a false reading of the Bible!

Followers of Christ cannot let that go unchallenged.God & Government

However, we are still called to be “light and salt” to the world and to express our views in humility and with love. While God made it clear He abhors homosexual conduct and abortion, Christians could differ on issues such as the U.S. taking in Syrian refugees or revising the tax code. Christians must forthrightly defend Scripture, but where the trail is muddled, Christ’s followers must reach their positions through prayer and promote them lovingly, even when disagreeing with one another.

Conclusion: It is imperative that followers of Christ lead the way this election year in the U.S. by boldly defending God’s laws and by conducting civic affairs in a civil manner. That would preclude the ad hominem attacks so favored by the unfaithful. We are called to support civil government (Rom. 13:1-7), but we must pray that whichever party’s candidates prevail in this ugly election, hearts will be softened to hear—and follow— the Lord’s voice.

PRAYER: Our Heavenly Father, we pray Your grace as our countrymen vote this November. We pray that our country’s leaders, and those who seek to replace them, will be open to Your voice and seek Your will, not just rhetorically when it’s politically useful, but in their personal lives and public acts. We also pray that You will lift up men and women who follow the Lord to seek political office at all levels of government so that our country, state, local communities, and school districts will be led by those who seek the Lord’s will. We pray this in Jesus’ Name. Amen