Frame Each Day by the Cross and the Resurrection

What frames your life? What parameters establish your direction and influence your choices? As we choose to frame our lives by the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ, His death, burial, and life direct our steps, giving us context and foundation. Rather than an annual weekend celebration, the reality of Easter should color our entire lives with hope and assurance.

Who is the first person you desire to talk with every morning? The first One on your mind? Is it God? Or do we, like many others, scroll through social media and check emails before we give Him thought or place. That first conversation, no matter how simple, acknowledges God’s place and active participation in all we are and do.

The daily spiritual disciplines of prayer, Bible reading and meditation, connection with other believers, and even communion, ground us in Christ’s finished work of the cross. For good reason, the first Christians established these basic tenants of faith early in church’s history.

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer . . . Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.”
Acts 2:42-46

The breaking of bread became a tangible reminder of the New Covenant they now enjoyed. Many of these men and women became amazing giants of faith. If they framed “every day” by the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ, should it be any less important for us?

Boast in Him

On the cross, Jesus declared each one of us precious enough to die for. Yet without Him, we have nothing to boast about. ALL honor, glory, power, and praise belong to Him. Only in humility are we rightly positioned before Him. And well it should be! All our boasting points completely toward Jesus.

The Cross

Paul wrote to the Corinthians,

“Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; (and) not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things — and the things that are not — to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: ‘Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.’ ”
1 Corinthians 1:26-30

Paul closes his letter to the Galatian church in a similar manner.

“May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
Galatians 6:14

We find an inexplicable paradox in the cross. Jesus Christ is everything; we are nothing. Yet, He became nothing, to give us everything. Such realization grounds and secures us. The cross and resurrection deems humanity of unspeakable value, despite personal frailty and failure.

The Cross and Resurrection

By daily celebrating Easter’s reality, we remember the cross and resurrection, allowing God to remind us both where we came from and where we are going — from the dead root to living hope. May we never forget how Christ’s death and resurrection rescued us from hopelessness and brought us into a confident future. Jesus removed our sins from us, cancelling our great debt and bridging the gap between God and humanity. His resurrection thunder-clapped through Heaven and Earth His indisputable victory over sin, satan, and death.

By framing each day by the cross and resurrection, we remind ourselves that our lives are not our own. Jesus purchased us at a costly price. God uses these defining events to remind us that to follow Jesus means choosing the way of sacrifice.

Good Friday

“And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”
Luke 14:27

We are forgetful and need a constant reminder of all God has done. The Israelites suffered from the same condition. The early Christians did too. Just because Christ suffered for us doesn’t mean all suffering has ended. Jesus and the other writers of the epistles spoke otherwise.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
John 16:33

So whether our days turn out supremely joyous or far from it, when we frame each day by the cross and resurrection, everything assumes proper perspective. Christ’s victory over-shadows everything! Today is but a millisecond in the vast time-line of eternity.

Victory

When a sports team wins a championship, a grand celebration often follows. The triumphant team hits the major news feeds. Families celebrate! Communities celebrate! Strangers even celebrate! Why? Everyone loves to see a decisive victory.

Resurrection

By framing each day by the cross and resurrection, we join once again in the celebration of the greatest victory ever.

” When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”
Colossians 2:15

Jesus hung naked, publicly degraded, and humiliated. But then . . . through His sinless sacrifice, He disarmed every evil power and authority, exposing them before Heaven and Earth to humiliation and shame. The enemy’s signature move became his greatest defeat.

“The resurrection is not the reversal of a defeat but the manifestation of the victory Jesus won on the cross for you and me.”
Nicky Gumbel

The cross and resurrection declare God’s glory, power, and dominion. Jesus transferred His victory to become our victory. And every victory we experience is His — through Him, for Him, and by Him.

It is Finished!

Perhaps Jesus’ greatest statement from the cross lay in these few words,

“So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, ‘It is finished!’ And bowing His head, He gave up His Spirit.”
John 19:30

It is Finished

Our limited understanding hinders us from comprehending how completely Jesus accomplished every assignment the Father had given Him. Everything that sin and rebellion stole, Jesus bought back. All Jesus needed to do was die — the Sinless for the guilty, the Prince of Peace for the turbulent, and the Obedient for the disobedient. He went far beyond!

” ‘He himself bore our sins‘ in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; ‘by his wounds you have been healed.’ “
1 Peter 2:24

The cross declares again and again, “It is finished! Stain of sin go! Incurable wound be healed! Broken in mind and spirit be restored! Sickness and disease bow! Captives, be free!” Though circumstances may try to convince us otherwise, the cross and resurrection declare the work is finished — for good, for ever.

So Much More

This is no legal requirement! Framing every day by the cross and resurrection celebrates how God empowers us to walk with strength not our own, with faith He freely gives, with courage amidst our battles, and with grace piled upon grace.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ From the dead.”
1 Peter 1:3

The cross and resurrection stand as a framework to all generations and peoples. They bring every aspect of life and faith into focus. Jesus transferred to all who would believe “new birth into a living hope.”

Lily

Does living hope define us? When others look our way, do they see the vibrancy of Christ’s life in and through us — both the death to the old and alive to the new? As we consistently celebrate and frame our lives by the cross and resurrection, I believe they will.

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5 Steps to Navigate the Path of Forgiveness

5 Steps to Navigate Forgiveness

All of us have experienced rejection, betrayal and offense in some manner. Walking through the process of forgiveness occurs step by step. To navigate the path of forgiveness, we intentionally take several difficult but rewarding steps. From time to time, we must revisit these godly principles, ensuring freedom from the lingering residue which otherwise may hinder our Christian progress.

Success, on so many levels, depends on our ability and faithfulness to conquer the treacherous terrain of forgiveness. Forgive, in Hebrew, means to “absolve” or “release fully.” It first appears near the end of the first book in the Bible.

” . . . I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.”
Genesis 50:17

Joseph spent fifteen long years in prison and slavery, being harshly and unjustly treated, because of his brother’s jealousy and anger. Separated from family and alone in a foreign land, Joseph had plenty of time and reason to harbor bitter resentment against them. But he didn’t! Now, at the death of their father, they only vaguely confess, stating their father wanted Joseph to forgive them.

Steps to Forgivenss

The Hebrew word, שָׂ֣א (śā), also means “to lift, bear up, carry, and endure.” Rarely do people openly apologize. Usually, dealing with offenses occurs in seclusion — a yielding to God the wrongs done to us by others.

The Unforgiving Servant

Jesus’ disciple, Peter, asked Jesus,

” . . . Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”
Matthew 18:21

By the standards of any day, Peter might seem extravagantly generous to forgive someone so many times. We, like Peter, often feel there must be some kind of limit to forgiveness. Jesus clearly explains that grace goes much further.

” . . . I tell you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.”
Matthew 18:22

In reality, Jesus said, “Seventy times seven times!” In other words, “Don’t count! Just forgive!” He used the opportunity to explain forgiveness more fully through a now familiar story about two men — one willing to forgive and the other unwilling. A servant owed his master the equivalent of twenty years of wages. (Before deducting living expenses!) Of course, he had no way of repaying his debt. The Master mercifully forgave the entire amount.

We encounter five key steps on the road to forgiveness. These godly principles endure through all circumstances, generations, and cultures.

Step #1 Desire

The Master in Jesus’ parable was no ordinary master. This Master, the King of Heaven, the One we have all insulted, betrayed, and violated, approached the indebted servant, wanting to settle the outstanding debt.

“Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants.”
Matthew 18:23

The first step in forgiveness requires a searching of our own hearts and intentions. Do we legitimately desire to forgive? Are we willing to “carry or endure” the pain of offense, even if the offender has no desire to resolve the issue.

Climbing

Neil Anderson often reinforces the truth, that forgiveness is a decision, or crisis, of the will. It begins with a decision within us. Forgiveness never implies that the offence doesn’t matter or gives room for continued disregard for another’s wellbeing. In forgiving, we acknowledge fully the depth of the offence and the pain we have endured.

Both the Master and the servant were clear about the extent of the harm, but forgiveness involves mercy.

Step #2 Mercy

In the parable, the deceived servant believed he could somehow reconcile the debt. The King knew the impossibility of his claims. Whether the offenses done against us are small or great, no human effort repairs the damage. In forgiving, we recognize that reconciliation is not always possible, or favorable.

The servant’s master took pity on him, cancelled the debt and let him go.”
Matthew 18:27

Mercy requires NOT giving someone what they deserve.

Instinctively, when someone wrongs us, we choose either to retreat or retaliate. We desire to either withdraw, avoiding further injury, or fight back, giving them a bit of what they’ve handed out to others. Jesus calls us to a different approach; He calls us to compassion.

The Greek word used for “pity” means “compassion in an absolute sense — feeling deeply for another based on emotion rather than on intellect or reason.”

Climbing Mountain

Talk about a massive boulder plopped in the middle of the path to forgiveness. Not only does Jesus call us to forgive, He calls us to a deep level of compassion for our offender.

While serving on guard duty, I have to position my heart free from critical judgments over the incarcerated. I see them at their worst. I watch over them during extreme times of crisis and intervention. Only God fully knows the twisted paths that have brought each one to this place.

Forgiveness doesn’t ignore or deny someone’s cruel behavior. It acknowledges the painful consequences we endure from their actions.

Forgiveness reaches across the chasm of personal pain to empathize with another, facing the blunt force of that pain head on. It looks the offender in the eye and says, “Despite what you have done, I forgive you. I no longer consider you indebted to me.”

Step #3 Revoking

In the same verse, Jesus tells us that the king “canceled the debt.” Can you imagine forgiving someone for twenty years of continued indebtedness, twenty years of insult and injury, twenty years of negligence and abuse? Some who are reading this relate all too well. The offense against you may span much longer — years have flowed into decades.

In this step, the sheer rock face of personal pain impedes our movement. To press through requires nothing less than the grace of God.

We know our offender owes us —
        owes us apology
                owes us restitution
                        owes us recognition of what they’ve done.

I wish every offender, including me, would quickly see their error, apologize, and make restoration. Unfortunately, few seldom do.

Team Work

Only by writing “PAID IN FULL” across the bill of their indebtedness will we overcome and conquer, moving toward full forgiveness, restoration, and personal freedom.

God called Job to forgive his friends, who turned into harsh critics.

” . . . My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly . . . After Job had prayed for his friends, the LORD restored his fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before . . . The LORD blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the former part.”
Job 42:8,10,12

Praying for our offenders provides the strength and wisdom to take the step of revoking the wrongs done against us. Through prayer, we release our assailants to God. Then, and only then, can God freely restore blessing to us.

Step #4 Let Him Go!

In practical terms, “letting him go” means refusing to dwell on the situation any longer. When I allow myself to regurgitate past offenses, I become stuck on the plateau of self-pity.

The plateau of pity appears quite pleasant — honestly, way too comfortable. No risky routes around boulders. No knuckle-whitening grips up granite cliffs. Parking in the pleasurable place of pity perhaps presents the greatest peril.

The Peril of Parking

The longer I park, the better it feels, the more self-righteous I believe I am, and the more critical I become of others. Pity deceives and lures.

Interesting how the right kind of pity, a compassion for others, sets our grand course. Yet, this misdirected pity and self-seeking gratification keeps us from reaching the destination of forgiveness.

“Letting him go” releases not just him, but us! It sets us free from being held back by the poor behavior of others, releasing us to reach the pinnacle of our destiny and purpose.

“But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
Matthew 6:15

Parking in pity is a luxury none can afford!

There is one more point Jesus makes in the parable.

Step #5 Release Judgment

God judges justly! When we master the narrow path of forgiveness, extending mercy and compassion, considering another’s debts “PAID IN FULL,” and releasing our offenders completely from their wrong, God still holds them accountable.

Forgiveness never belittles or denies the incredible pain of offense. Only through the act of forgiving comes the power to walk free from it. Earthly powers lack ability. Even monetary recompense fails to satisfy. Only through the cross of Jesus Christ does justice reign.

Forgive as You Have Been Forgiven

Jesus paid for every offense on the cross, We measure the weight of sin on faulty human scales. Sin is sin to God. Only He sees the full picture. Only He judges justly.

“The LORD arises to contend
And stands to judge the people.”
Isaiah 3:13

As we listen to the voice of Jesus, leaning into His heart, and choosing the path of forgiveness, we will find He is with us, guarding our steps. With Him, we will overcome every obstacle, reaching the high place of forgiveness, where someday we will view all things from the Kingdom of Heaven perspective.

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Love and Faith — What Little Boys Taught Me About Fear

Love and Faith

God often teaches us powerful life lessons of love and faith at the most inconvenient times and in the most uncomfortable ways. These lessons remain with us for a lifetime, influencing decisions and stabilizing us in uncertain situations.

Faith and fear are mutually incompatible. In reality, however, faith fails to find a firm foundation until love paves the way.

Our children are long grown, but memories of their frightened cries piercing the dark night run fresh through my mind. Lights turned on, to prove nothing hiding in a closet or under the bed, failed to dispel fear. The reassurance that dad and mom were in the next room impacted the angst little. Even prayer and affirmation that the Presence and protection of Jesus covered them only faintly eased their discomfort. Information alone holds little resistance against fear. Yet, when love draws close, confidence and calm prevail!

Fear flees without a fight when love enters.

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”
1 John 4:18

Whether during a global crisis or the not-so-simple daily pressures of life, love makes all the difference. No matter our age, social status, or race, we all need to know love and support. Do you have someone who loves you unconditionally? Someone constant through success and failure, health and illness, prosperity and lack, the strength of youth and the frailty of old age? Who is your someone — the person you could call anytime, day or night, who will listen, support and encourage?

If you can name anyone, you are in the privileged minority.

How Mental Health Is the New Domain of Ministry to the Next Generation - Barna
How Mental Health Is the New Domain of Ministry to the Next Generation - Barna

Mental Health

I’m not sure I have experienced times as full of angst as in this season. The breakdown of the family, the disintegration of faith communities, and often fluctuating political impetus seriously affect us all. Deceptive addictions, in various forms, clench cruel claws and breathe death into the unsuspecting in pandemic proportions. We suffer generationally from dis-ease both within and around us. No one guarantees immunity or promises cure.

Just as my little children needed love with flesh in their fear-filled darkness, our world needs it too. We, as God’s hands and feet, can rise to the occasion, push aside our own insecurities and fatigue, demonstrating love and faith within this present global famine.

“Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”
1 John 3:18

Only One-Third of Young Adults Feels Cared for by Others  - Barna

Barna conducted this study pre-pandemic on 18 to 35-year-olds. Only one in three young adults felt loved by those close to them. What I find shocking is that these young adults said they “feel the broad, global trends more than they feel loved and supported by others close to them.” The reality that two-thirds of young adults do not feel unloved and unsupported should shock us all into high alert.

The effects of the last several months of isolation and uncertainty have only exacerbated the problem, not just among the young, but among us all. God created us to thrive in loving faith-filled community. People of all ages are struggling emotionally and relationally. They may not describe themselves as anxious or depressed, yet confess they struggle to maintain concentration and focus, feel elevated concern for themselves and others, and are uncertain about employment, housing and their ability to secure the basics of life.

As Christians, we have the antidote! God planted faith and love within us.

It’s Up to Us All

If this kind of love sounds messy, you’re right. If you think this kind of love is best left to professional pastors and clergy, you’re mistaken. Your family needs you. Your neighbors need you. Even your church needs you. Your workplace needs you.

Only Jesus held a doctorate in love. Only He got it right all the time. Please, don’t underestimate what simple demonstrations of love and faith might do when committed to Him.

Christians Struggled with Relational Health Prior to the Crisis—So What Has Changed? - Barna

Maybe we should start our efforts with those who stand in the centre of the fray — “professional” clergy. The pressure upon pastors to care for their congregations effectively, through a pandemic, has taken a toll. Five years ago, only two percent of pastors rated their emotional health as below average or poor. Today, over twenty percent say they suffer. May I encourage you to love those who lead. Assist and support them however God directs you.

“Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work . . . “
1 Thessalonians 5:12-13

Let’s begin together by practicing love and faith with those who have dedicated themselves to serve God, us and others.

Know the Signs

If we willingly slow our pace, even a little, and look around, for even a moment, the evidence becomes obvious.

Only One-Third of Young Adults Feels Cared for by Others  - Barna

God’s Word never fails! Perfect love always casts out anxiety, fear, uncertainty and insecurity, rendering them powerless — like a lion without fangs or claws. I propose we engage in love and faith like never before. Though we may feel love for others, they may genuinely question that love. Here lies the great disconnect. Only when we learn to demonstrate love and faith in ways people comprehend will we shift the tide of mental anguish.

Peter says,

“Now, because of your obedience to the truth, you have purified your very souls, and this empowers you to be full of love for your fellow believers. So express this sincere love toward one another passionately and with a pure heart. For through the eternal and living Word of God, you have been born again. And this “seed” that he planted within you can never be destroyed but will live and grow inside of you forever.”
1 Peter 1:22-23

Christ planted the seed of His perfect love in each one of us. His seed of love empowers us to love fully. He not only preserves the seed but guarantees it will live and grow inside of us forever. Wow! What a promise! Love planted in each of us, living and growing into a vibrant reality, impacting those desperate for it. He takes the pressure off, providing us with everything we need to love others, especially those within the body of believers.

Love and faith work together.

There Is Proof

Barna also researched how the Christian community functions in crisis. Better than average, apparently! Bravo, people of God, you are doing it! Your love within the ranks is having an impact.

Christians Struggled with Relational Health Prior to the Crisis—So What Has Changed? - Barna

Sadly, those outside the faith are suffering the most. However, that reality presents great opportunity. Though fear has taken up temporary residence in the cultural love vacuum, God appoints us to serve eviction notice to the squatter of fear. I daily witness people stepping through the invisible barriers of uncertainty, reaching across cubicles, hallways, alleys, denominations, cities and nations. With hearts overflowing, they extend to the emotional hurting love and faith in action.

I hear voices of young and old resolutely declare,

” . . . Here am I. Send me!”
Isaiah 6:8

How Love Looks

Only thirty percent of the global population feels supported, secure, and hopeful. Hold off on discouragement, though! As hints of spring crease the snow-clad landscape, I’m reminded of little bees, hidden in cloistered hives. Soon they will stretch sleeping wings, moving out to work silently their God-given task. As they fearlessly take flight, extending beyond their secure habitat, they benefit our world in powerful ways, producing incredible fruitfulness.

May I encourage you to reach beyond your secure cloister, “pollinating,” with love and faith, those you come in contact with by supporting them and letting them know you believe in who they are. Yes, validate the work they do and the gifts they possess, but, more importantly, endorse them as uniquely created by God with divine purpose, having irreplaceable worth.

Love and faith create, enrich, and sustain others, fostering hope for the future. Although most of us have learned to dream silently, we can encourage others to dream beyond human possibility. May we become dream keepers and dream builders, encouraging and fostering potential in others. We can faithfully pray they will achieve their full capability.

By creating an atmosphere of love and faith, and building support and hope, we will make progress in dislodging fear and anxiety. One word of encouragement, one act of kindness, one phone call, one moment of your time, may be the turning point for someone.

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”
John 13:34

It’s Personal

A young woman sat huddled in the center of her bed, cocooned in a fetal position by darkness within and without. Spiritually and emotionally tormented, no cries for help pierced the broken stillness. Hopelessness gripped her heart and suffocated all hope . . . until . . . love walked in.

Her father slowly ascended the staircase and slipped quietly beside her. He knew. He, too, lived the dark night of depression. Slowly, he reached out his large gentle hand, and with not much more than whisper offered, “Honey, I love you.”

Like a mighty wrecking ball, the walled fortress of desperation and despair crumbled. Love made a way! Love broke through! My father responded to his grown daughter’s unuttered cry, slip into my night, and embraced me with love — a love that changed everything.

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”
Ephesians 4:2

What if our simple acts of love deposit seeds of flourishing love in others in the same way that Christ deposited love in us? What if we each possess powerful seeds of love and faith that will ultimately produce more of the same? Maybe, just maybe, we can become like little bees gently spreading the pollen of love and faith (one act at a time) that will bear more fruit than anyone realizes. Maybe together, we can turn the tide, tip the tables and trample the terror that has gripped people for far too long (one person at a time).

References

You might appreciate these Barna references:

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“Come, Follow Me” – How Ready and Willing Am I?

Come, Follow Me

“Come, follow me, Grandma!” My grandson yelled over his shoulder as he grabbed his sled and sped down the steep snow-laden hill. The sun brightened the day, but failed to soften the biting crispness of the winter air. With fingers numbing in the cold and heals dug in, I hesitated, evaluating the outcome and standing in reluctance. For generations, our family enjoyed sledding together down these familiar slopes. The pages of my photo album chronicle many such outings.

Today was different!

As I stood on the crest of the hill, I realized I wasn’t as young as I once was. Broken bones don’t heal quite as quickly as they once did. My aging body doesn’t flex like it did a few decades ago. But alas, fun called! I lassoed my courage in one giant breath, lifted my heals and pushed off. Wind and snow pelted my face, forcing icy crystals around my neck and blurring my vision. Holding frantically to the inner tube beneath me, I creased my eyes tight as I veered off course, slamming into a bluff of shrubs and trees. With limbs intact, I flung my arms wide in the air, signalling triumph to the onlookers (laughing wildly, I might add). Obviously, I lived to tell the tale and smile in the remembrance. 

Waiting and watching

This invitation was risky, but invitations come in many forms. Invitations to weddings, baby showers, dinners with friends, picnics or vacations. Someone thought of us. Someone values our presence. The response to the invitation rests with each one of us. Will we pass up the opportunity, or be counted in?

Sometimes, we consider the cost more carefully. Future outcomes lay hidden. Resulting consequences questionable. “Come, follow me!” should cause us to ask at least a few questions before we jump on board. 

“Come, Follow Me.”

“Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people. At once they left their nets and followed him.” 
Mark 1:17,18

Simon and Andrew never requested a legal contract validating Jesus’ ability to lead or adequately compensate them for their efforts. “At once” they followed. A little further down the beach, Jesus summoned two more fishermen, the brothers James and John.

Birds on water

Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat
with the hired men and followed him.”
Mark 1:20 

Don’t be confused! Their decision carried serious consequences. When they walked away from their father and the fishing business, they also left security, a predictable income, and peer credibility. They chose Jesus above their families and any earthly benefits. Jesus called these dedicated, mature business owners into futures they could not yet comprehend. 

Jesus recognized qualities in these hardworking men that would be essential for the demanding ministry ahead. Though rough around the edges, Jesus noticed in them the ingredients of greatness. His invitation to “Come, follow me!” held unprecedented risk — ultimately costing them their lives. 

Followers

Eventually, the numbers of people following Jesus aroused the suspicion of many, the jealousy of others, and the anger of still more. The multitudes which followed sought healing, deliverance, and food for their bellies. Others followed out of curiosity. A few followed with evil intent, waiting to catch Jesus in his words. 

Come Follow Me

The outward appearance of this rag-tag group of disciples concealed the mighty world-changers they would become. Jesus chose those who would be passionately committed and deeply involved in the work of ministry. He sought those who would courageously stand in the face of adversity and death. All-in, nothing held back, trusting, independent, and teachability! 

Many God honoring men and women turned and walked away. The cost of following Jesus was greater than they were willing to make. A wealthy young man in Matthew 19 is a prime example.

Since childhood, to the best of his ability, he lived for God. Yet, he knew he lacked something. He asked Jesus what more he could do.

” . . . sell your possession and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
Matthew 19:21

Sadly, he walked away, hoping to find an easier path, a cheaper alternative, a less painful option.

Everyone Come

Our response to Jesus’ call to “come, follow me” reveals more about the motivations of our hearts than we realize. Just maybe, His invitation discloses how deeply we hold to the temporary pleasures and comforts of the world.

The open invitation to follow Jesus still stands. Unfortunately, we too often relate to the wealthy young man or those in the parable of a banquet. Jesus says that everything is prepared and waiting for anyone willing to come. Throughout the streets and byways, messengers announced the good news.

Come, for everything is now ready. But they all alike began to make excuses.”
Luke 14:17-18

Though their reasons appeared valid and their response polite, they all missed a once in a lifetime opportunity. At the core, they all made excuses! Funny, how much validity we give to our frail reasoning. The Master in the parable knew both the weakness of their arguments and inevitable consequences of their failure to respond.

Compel Them

The Master became outraged by the feeble responses. The parable foretells a wedding celebration unlike any other. The union of Jesus Christ and His bride, the church. It speaks with urgency.

Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame . . . Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full.”
Luke 14:21-23

Ducks Diving

Excuses won’t matter then! The Master will fill the seats — if not with us, with others.

Every invitation requires preparation, setting aside other commitments, our time, and perhaps gifts. “Come, follow me!” carries a price, too. Our dedication to Jesus means more than lounging at banquet tables or sitting idly under shady trees.

“Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”
Matthew 10:38

The cross for some may seem insignificant, but for others weighty. In following we become servants, messengers, and ministers caring for the needs of others above our own. In following, we commit everything we are and have to Him. We are no long our own; “we have been bought with a price” (1 Cor 6:20).

The Reward

The rewards of following Jesus Christ are greater than could be compiled within a blog or list!

  • He lifts our burdens (Matt 11:28)
  • “Come, follow me!” leads us from the familiar into the miracle-moving, water-walking impossible (Matt 14:19, 28-29)
  • It brings us into the place of blessing and inheritance (Matt 25:34)
  • It welcomes us and others into the kingdom of God (Mk 1:17)
  • He provides quietness and rest (Mk 6:31)
Geese Lead and Follow

” . . . Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”
John 7:37-38

We’ve all heard those get-it-now, time-limited offers. Though it may not seem like it, Jesus’ invitation fits into a similar category. When He returns, it will be too late. The doors will be closed and further access denied, unless you have already accepted His invitation to “Come, follow me!” Let’s not allow anything to keep us from responding.

” . . . I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.”
2 Corinthians 6:2

Today, acknowledge the invitation. Jesus welcomes all to RSVP, “Yes, Lord, today I come!”

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Faith and Closure: Avoiding Misconception and Error

Faith And Closure

Both faith and closure depend on sensory input. Unfortunately, senses alone create a fragmented and incomplete concept of our world. What do we do with those random bits and pieces of known and unknown? By nature, we fill in the gaps between what we know and what we don’t know from previous experience.

We define this human phenomenon of observing the parts but perceiving the whole as “closure.” Usually our definition of closure falls between the limited boundaries of ending a business or relationship. The full sense of closure reaches much broader than that, however.

As we begin life, our minds largely resemble a blank slate. Of course, our natural senses already became activated in the womb. Once we exploded into the world, sensory overload kicked into high gear. Bright lights and dark shadows, cold air and warm touches, unmuted sound (including our own screams of panic), and smells both pungent and subtle. Neither faith nor closure existed for any of us in those early moments of life.

“When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”
1 Corinthians 13:11-12

See Like a Child

Paul affirms the ways of childhood give way to adulthood — as do thoughts, speech, and whole waft of other developmental attributes.

Faith

Most of us have played peek-a-boo with a child. The child saw our familiar face. Suddenly, we hid behind a blanket, causing the child brief but great concern. As soon as we showed our face again, the child responded with equal delight. Gradually, he/she learned that even though they could not see our face, we were present — hidden from view but with them.

Innocently, those first simple faith steps of a child began. Drawing from experience, he/she believed you were present and available. The child’s ability to create closure — to finish the picture in his/her mind even though all he/she saw was a blanket — required faith in its simplest form.

Spiritual faith follows a parallel journey as we learn that although we cannot visibly see God, His Presence is tangible and constant. Spiritual senses develop through similar childlike steps.

All too often, however, we take giant leaps in our attempt to “finish the picture,” recreating God in our minds.

In 1 Corinthians, the great love chapter, Paul warns us about this premature propensity toward closure. He reminds us that we don’t fully know the whole story, or see the bigger picture. At best, we see God and our world in fragmented pieces — like a half-painted portrait.

Glass Window

Other Bible translations phrase it this way:

  • “we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections” (NLV)
  • “now we see through a glass in obscurity” (BLB)
  • “we see through a glass, darkly” (KJV)

Yet despite our blurred context, we adopt faith and closure, framing everything and everyone around us by previous limited experience.

Mystery

Even though much of life (let alone God) remains a mystery, we involuntarily close the gaps of time and space between known and unknown with great leaps of faith. For Christians, faith is mandatory to our belief system.

Many people in Jesus’ day attempted to create closure apart from faith. They nullified the mystery of God by leaning toward presumption, misconception, or even error. Examples regarding Jesus are many:

  • Some accused Him of performing miracles through Beelzebul, the prince of demons. (Matt 12:24)
  • Religious leaders tried to stone Him, believing He was a mere man, claiming to be God. (John 10:31-33)
  • His own family thought He had gone completely mad — out of his mind. (Mark 3:20)

That’s only the tip of the iceberg of accusations and misunderstanding. Though people witnessed the miracles and heard His teaching, without both faith and closure they came to faulty conclusions of His person and ministry.

Iceberg

Seen and Known

To a lesser degree, we’ve all fallen victim to similar judgments and misunderstandings of our motives and actions. We’ve probably also been guilty of forming false assumptions about others. Paul offered the Corinthian church this wise advice,

“So don’t make judgments about anyone ahead of time — before the Lord returns. For he will bring our darkest secrets to light and will reveal our private motives. Then God will give to each one whatever praise is due.”
1 Corinthians 4:5

The Lord Jesus, who knows all things, will reveal every hidden piece, every secret portion. He will unveil the completed canvas. Then, there will be no misunderstandings, misconceptions or errors. Everyone will clearly see and be fully known. Faith and closure blending in perfect unity! No presumptuously filling in the gaps or judgmental conclusions.

Closure

Just as faith develops in a baby through experience over time, so does closure. The more we come to know the heart and ways of God, the longer we walk this journey called the Christian faith, the greater our perception of Him, our world, others, and even ourselves becomes.

Horse Tail

With both human and spiritual sensory inputs functioning to a greater degree, we become increasingly capable of successfully navigating the circumstances of life. Even then, we always remember that we only know and see in part.

Jesus’ disciples tripped and faltered as they continually attempted to bring closure where there wasn’t any. Some assumed they would sit at His right or left hand in His Kingdom (Mark 10:37). Others concluded the disciple John would never die (John 21:23). They often attempted to squish Jesus into their religious or political paradigms. Despite His warnings, they all believed they would never forsake Him (Matt 26:31-35).

We too dangerously combine faith and closure in misdirected ways. How few Christians in North American believe trouble and persecution will intrude upon their comfortable lives? Many believe Christianity equates to entitlement regarding health, wealth and ease. What percentage of the population falsely believe access to heaven comes through good behavior and honorable intentions?

Here we see faith without justified closure.

Jesus Christ

Only One Person capably closes such gaps — Jesus Christ! In Him is the pinnacle of both faith and closure, eradicating every misconception and all error. In Him is absolute fullness and completeness.

In every way, this familiar passage applies.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do and he will show you which path to take. Don’t be impressed with your own wisdom. Instead, fear the Lord and turn away from evil.”
Proverbs 3:5-7

Faith and Closure

When we direct our eyes and hearts exclusively to Him, allowing Him to reveal the full picture, we release the need for premature closure and by faith trust Him with all outcomes — large and small. Then, with childlike enthusiasm, we will rejoice as He reveals the full image both in our lives and in the lives of others.

We will never panic like a little child playing peek-a-boo. We will possess an assurance, fear from all doubt, He is forever present, though unseen, in the twists and turns of life. Only in Jesus Christ comes faith, knowing He will put all the pieces into perfect union and bring closure to the mysteries yet to be revealed.

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Superhero? Stash the Cape and Walk with Humility

Walk in Humility

Do I stash the cape or keep it? It’s fun designing characters for a children’s book. Artists and authors often use attributes they see within themselves or others for character development. Though super heros in flowing capes make great comic heros, they are hard to live with in daily life.

Recently, everything coming my way (videos, sermons, personal studies) focuses on the element of humility — an attribute I possess too little of! As much as I desire less pride and more humility, achieving that goal often requires time and effort.

Paul wrote to the Philippians,

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

Zap

These wise words establish godly perspective. In both artistry and life, perspective is everything. How we position ourselves in relationships determines how vibrant those relationships become.

Looking Down

When artists portray a character struggling or defeated, they view the image from a high angle looking down. The reader will automatically perceive the character as being fearful or shy. Even slight variations, like a hand turned upward, give the subject a subordinate position.

For most people, deliberately assuming this lower position creates internal struggle. For most people, only rarely do we willingly desire to appear inferior to others.

Superhero

Jesus noticed this propensity to choose the best seats, highest places, and honored positions. In Luke 14, He tells His followers,

“When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor . . . take the lowest place . . . “
Luke 14:8-11

Sooner or later, self-promotion ultimately leads to humiliation! Most of us consider ourselves too cultured and dignified for such brash behavior. But I honestly need to ask myself a few straight questions: How willing am I to seek advice? How readily do I receive correction, especially if it is from someone not in authority? Do I ask others for help or do I find my own way?

For me, these are all difficult. I would far rather be the teacher than the student or the one who provides than the one receiving. Most of us gladly halt what we are doing to help others, but stutter when asking for similar assistance.

Boom

For relationships to grow and mature, they must be reciprocal. Lopsided one-upmanship disappears when we let go of pride and perfection, offering permission to stash the cape. Reciprocal means giving and receiving — a willingness to take the lower position.

Eye to Eye

I hope many genuine relationships fill your life. Paul says,

“Therefore if you have any encouragement for being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.”
Philippians 2:1-2

The strongest relationships I enjoy are those “united with Christ.” Though natural families form incredible bonds, spiritual ones become even stronger. When our natural family also becomes our spiritual family, we possess the best of both.

Hero

What propels relationships grounded in Christ? The first two attributes Paul mentions are the comfort of Christ’s love and sharing in the Spirit. To know how loved we are, despite our weaknesses and failures, releases us to love others — not as superiors but equals. Eye to eye! The Spirit dwelling within us, leads us into a fuller re-presentation of Christ in the world.

We can stash the cape, leaving any superhero facade behind. Walking on a common level, we experience tenderness and compassion, similar mindsets, and mutual love for each other.

Looking Up

Every picture book or movie presents a hero by looking from what is called the “worm” view. With a few artistic strokes the hero looms large, powerful, and independent within the scope of their surroundings.

A child running through the yard with fabric flowing off their shoulder’s announcing the world will soon be delivered, brings smiles from adult onlookers. Unfortunately, many of us carry our imaginary capes into adulthood, viewing ourselves with superhero status: superior and strong.

Pow! Bang!

We pull invisible capes from who-knows-where and masquerade as someone significant. Oh, don’t worry, we maintain our “Christianese” behind the polished mask of false humility.

Jesus’ words echo in my heart as a warning,

“The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Matthew 23:11-23

Scripture gives no room for “might” or “maybe.” They will be! Experience has taught me, the sooner I choose the low position and look up, the better for everyone!

One Hero

When I’m willing to stash my cape, refusing to pretend super Christian status, I clearly see the real Hero — the only Hero, the true Hero worth looking to. What made Him so heroic? He lowered Himself lower than I could imagine, becoming nothing, so we could become everything He designed us to be.

” . . . he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross!” Philippians 2:7-8

Jesus became Superhero #1, for all time, for all people. He didn’t just stash a phony cape; He left Heaven, descended from the highest place of glory and power, to become like us — dust. Talk about a giant step downward!

Kapow!

Only when we see our glorified Lord will we fully understand how low He came. And the result? He snatched a dying world from eternal hell, trampled the head of that slimy serpent, and declared victory over every oppressive dis-ease the enemy once unleashed.

“Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Philippians 2:9-11

Stash the Cape

Jesus set the ultimate example, showing us how to restore relationship. The One who could have come like most comic strip heros, looking down on the world, didn’t! He could have dominated, intimidated, and controlled, but He wouldn’t.

Jesus came — looked humanity in the eye and walked at our level. He allowed people to pay His way, wash His feet, and serve Him, without feeling demeaned. Jesus also lifted people (demon possessed, adulterous, wicked, sketchy, diseased, contaminated people) from low positions. Each time, He demonstrated honor and value.

Stash the Cape

So why do we struggle to stash the cape, to show our flaws, and be real with each other? Why do we obstinately refuse the low road?

Jesus chose a different way.

“Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God;”
John 13:3

Because Jesus KNEW — understood completely His identity in the Father and His ministry — He was secure. The same possibility is true for us! Insecurity causes us to reach for superficial capes and earthly titles. Insecurity motivates us to look down on some, compare ourselves with ourselves, and desire the accolades of others. Security allows us to stash the cape and relate honestly.

The Frame

Every artist or illustrator considers how to “frame” their characters. Wide angle, or close-up? Left, right, or center? Through reading Daniel, God reminded me of the “frame” I need to walk in humility.

A dream disturbed King Nebuchadnezzar. He called in all his astrologers, magicians, enchanters and sorcerers — his full arsenal of dream interpreters — demanding they both tell him the dream and interpret it. They panicked, “You’re asking the impossible! No one on earth can do what the king asks!” (Daniel 2) True story!

Daniel quickly solicits the prayer support of his friends. As a result, God reveals both the dream and meaning. When he approaches the king with the answer, Daniel clearly says, “God in heaven reveals mysteries. It isn’t about me or my wisdom. I’m no better than anyone else, but God wants you to know and understand.” (Dan 2:28-30)

Daniel showed complete humility. He responded to situations by taking the low road, seeking the help of his comrades, claiming no credit for himself and desiring the good of others.

Supermom

That’s our frame for humility. God exalted — first, last, and middle. Others honored as better than ourselves.

So when you see the evidence of pride (no matter how subtle) in my strut, carried in my continence, or waffled in my words, I give you permission to tell me plainly, “Stash the cape, girl! Be real!” Please help me swap my phony cape for the legitimate cloak of humility.

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What is Truth? Know The Truth: Speak What is True

Know Truth! Speak Truth!

Do you know The Truth? During the tribunal, Pilate asked Jesus a probing question, a question posed untold times since, “What is truth?” Pilate, like so many of us, found it difficult to acknowledge the Truth, even when he came face to face with it.

Jesus had just made a remarkable statement,

” ‘ . . . In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.’ “
John 18:37

The Bible not only contains truth, but is the word of truth. Only two types of people inhabit earth, those who choose to listen to the Word and those who don’t, won’t or can’t. We all live and work in a world futile in its attempt to avoid, deny or run from truth. John also wrote,

They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.”
1John 4:5-6

Question Mark

John divides people into “we” and “they,” depending on the strongest influence — “the Spirit of truth” or “the spirit of falsehood” and error. I only have to look within myself to recognize these two realms warring against each other. They battle for my thoughts, influence my talk, and determine my actions.

Know The Truth

Far more than a conceptual notion, truth is a Person! John records a series of astonishing statements Jesus made,

” . . . I am the way and the truth and the life . . .”
John 14:6

“I AM!” Jesus said, “I AM truth — the truth, ultimate truth, absolute truth!” The world of the first century matches our own, with political powers forcing domination, religious cultures fighting for their platform of voice, ordinary people wondering who to believe. Daily, we scratch our heads, trying to discern truth for deception.

“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever — the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.”
John 14:16-17

Thinker

Jesus Christ is the capital “I AM” of truth, and the Holy Spirit the capital “Spirit” of truth. For anyone wondering what truth looks, sounds, and feels like, we need look to only One Person! Just as Jesus told Pilate that He came to “testify to the truth,” the Holy Spirit, within us, bears witness to that truth.

Not only is it possible to know the Truth, the Truth, through the Spirit dwells within us — testifying about and guiding us into real truth. How reassuring! Swirls of uncertainty and confusion never overtake us.

” When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father — the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father — he will testify about me . . . But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth . . .”
John 15:26-27: 16:13

We live free from fear, without doubting our ability to discern wisely. Through the Holy Spirit, truth becomes a living reality.

Grace and Truth

Deception and lies masquerade as truth. The spirit of error twists and disguises lies to make them look appealing and favorable.

Rather than welcome it, we often fear exposure by truth. But truth partners with grace — grace piled upon grace! Fear originates with the law. Grace flows through truth.

Problem

“Out of (Jesus’) fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”
John 1:16,17

Jesus came to us “full of grace and truth.” Deception imprisons those who follow its taunts. Truth unlocks the gates!

” . . . If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then, you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
John 8:31,32

To know the Truth, is to know Jesus — the One who speaks and imparts liberating truth, setting us free from every lying accusation of the enemy. Truth always sets us free!

I’ve witnessed this reality time and time again, as one captive after another experienced the freedom from chains of addictions, death prisons of defeat and bars of self-harm. Only God holds the keys of such liberating truth.

No wonder our adversary wants to keep us from knowing Jesus. Oh, the power we gain when we know the Truth.

The Benefits

James declares we are born through “the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created” (1:18). John says, the Truth sanctifies, purifies, consecrates and separates us unto Him (17:17). Paul tells the Ephesian church that truth multiplies truth, along with an abundance of goodness and righteousness (5:9).

If that was all, it would be enough for me, but it isn’t! The benefits of knowing truth exceed all expectations.

In writing to Timothy, Paul identifies the church as a “buttress of truth!” A buttress forms a supporting defense, strengthening and reinforcing a building. God declares us, His kids, as pillars and buttresses of truth. What a high calling and divine purpose!

Solution

Truth leads us into God’s Presence (Psalm 43:3 ESV), opening the ear of God to our prayers and petitions.

“The LORD is near to all who call on him to all who call on him in truth.” Psalm 145:18

Truth becomes a belt, securing and protecting every core aspect of a believer (Ephesians 6:14). A warrior’s belt held weapons readily accessible for battle, freeing one’s hands for combat.

Truth also activates our worship, because

“God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and truth.”
John 4:24

What blessing is ours when we know the Truth.

Rejoice in Truth

Can you feel it? As you hear these verses again, with the implications of truth becoming increasingly real, do you sense an attitude of rejoicing rising within you? I do! God’s Word doesn’t just recite truth, it is truth (Psalm 119:160) We chorus the voice of the psalmist,

Teach me your ways, O Lord, that I may live according to your truth.”
Psalm 86:11

The Cross

Then we will boldly, and with great grace, speak God’s truth in love. In fact, without truth, love becomes impotent (1John3:18). When we know the Truth, it infiltrates our hearts, infusing our words and conduct, penetrating our thoughts (Philippians 4:8).

“Love . . . rejoices with the truth.”
1 Corinthians 13:6

Every perversity and wickedness aims its weapons at truth, suppressing and denying it. The church of Jesus Christ amplifies it by representing the beauty, dignity and power of truth to a confused world.

Let’s get excited!

“We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true by being in His Son, Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.”
1John 5:20

What is truth? Truth is our God and Savior, Jesus Christ. May we not be like Pilate, staring intently into His face and yet missing the opportunity to know Him.

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Blinded! To See or Not to See

Blinded

Have you ever been blinded? The flash of a welder’s arc caused damage to our son’s eyes when he was still in high school. He was hospitalized with his eyes bandaged over for several days as a result. Afterward, he carefully avoided any similar incidents.

I have sometimes thought about which one of the five senses, I value the most? If I had to part with one, which one would I choose? Perhaps parting with the sense of taste might not be a half-bad idea — especially the taste of chocolate! Though hard-pressed to decide, the ability to see would definitely be at the top of my priorities to keep.

Perhaps that reason undergirds my compassion toward the blind who came to Jesus. We see them, like blind Bartimaeus in Mark 10:46-52, crying out, by-passing protocol, refusing to be permanently imprisoned in darkness by silence.

However, the gnawing awareness of my own “blindness,” resulting from the equally imposing confinement within the dark recesses of my heart, makes up the greatest reason. I cannot deny my inability to see as God sees.

Palm Trees Water

“Lord, have mercy.” I too cry out, “I want to see!”

A Blind Man

“They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him.”
Mark 8:22

Bethsaida, a fishing village north of the Sea of Galilee, became one of the most frequently mentioned places in the New Testament. Here, Jesus performed many miracles. Peter, Andrew and Philip, with faith, all left Bethsaida and everything in it, to follow Jesus. Now they, with Jesus, returned.

Whether they were friends or family of the blind man we’re not sure, but they came looking for Jesus to help where no other help was found. “They . . . begged Jesus to touch him” — “parakaleo“-ing Him, “calling for His aid, beseeching with strong force, entreating and looking for comfort.”

I appreciate Mark’s short, to the point, action-packed, essentials-only writing style. Every detail significant. Every word precise. Painting clear visuals for our imaginations.

Blinded

Jesus’ methods of healing changed with each encounter, because He did only what He saw the Father do (John 5:19-20). Here . . .

“He took the bind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man’s eyes and put his hand on him, Jesus asked, ‘Do you see anything?’ “
Mark 8:23

I wouldn’t recommend this healing scenario as a prayer model! Can you imagine the shocked expressions, air-gasping, and indiscreet murmuring of onlookers?

Sunlight through Trees

With the exception of the ten lepers who were healed as they went (Luke 17:11-19), Jesus healed diseases and infirmities instantly. This time, He sensed an invisible block to this man’s complete restoration. He asks, “Do you see anything,” moving the blind man from passive by-stander to active participant in his own healing.

“He looked up and said, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.”
Mark 8:24

At one time, he saw people and trees. Before being blinded, he saw both. Now he recognized the difference.

Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.”
Mark 8:25

See Clearly

Jesus touched my eyes when He touched my heart and claimed me for His own. I gave Him my resolute, “Yes!” to follow Him wherever He may lead, and yield to Him whatever He asks. He touched the eyes of my heart to see. Once was good but not enough!

Again, He moves me from by-stander to active participant in my healing as He asks, “Do you see?” How often I’ve come begging Him for clearer vision — for Him to touch me “once more!”

Honestly, most of the time, I see people who “look like trees walking around.” My heart is still blinded to truth, warping my perception of others.

Brilliant sky

Some I see as palm trees of rest and refreshing. Others I see as thorn bushes, cutting deeply, drawing unnecessary blood when I get close. Still others resemble junipers, sapping strength, resources and life with each encounter. Many appear fickle — green and growing one season, barren and dead the next. A precious few become shelters of prayer with their spreading canopy protecting me from the enemy’s onslaughts. Still others stand menacingly tall in high positions, with deadly accuracy striking like lightning in a prairie storm.

I need to be honest before God, myself and you as I write with genuine tears. I’m blinded to His perception of all those He loves and has given His life for. I’m unable to see clearly His reflection in their faces.

The root of this man’s blindness remains hidden — the cause undisclosed. The source for my own inability to see hides concealed in the recesses of both my past and present. Whether I’m blinded by cynicism or criticism, unforgiveness or judgement, self-protection or ignorance, Jesus offers the only “parakaleo.” He alone provides both help and comfort.

Although miracles validated Jesus’ ministry, His intension went far beyond easing temporary pain. The miracles He performed were supposed to stir repentance, build faith and bring glory to God. That primary purpose remains unchanged!

Once More

Once more, I need Jesus to miraculously touch my blinded eyes and soften my hardened heart. Paul, someone else formerly blinded to truth, exhorted his spiritual son, Timothy,

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people . . . this is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”
1 Timothy 2:1-4

Sunrise Trees

Paul “urges” (parakalo,” the same word as “parakaleo” in Mark). He calls for Timothy’s aid — “beseeching with strong force, entreating and looking for comfort,” for everyone based on the cross.

“Touch my heart again and again, Lord. Spit upon my spiritual eyes that I would see people as you do — valued, significant, worthy of love, honor, and dignity. Like the blind man, may my eyes be open and my sight restored. May I clearly see each one as You do.”

Go Home

Mark ends the account with,

“Jesus sent him home, saying, ‘Don’t even go into the village.’ ”
Mark 8:26

I’m not exactly sure why Jesus gave such specific instruction not to go into Bethsaida. Jesus, who led him by the hand out, warned him not to go back. Was something about this village the source of his blindness? Or was Jesus protecting him from falling under a soon-to-be-proclaimed curse?

Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago . . .” Luke 10:13

God graciously offers seasons of visitation and repentance to us — turn around moments, fresh starts and God encounters. When Jesus comes, He longs to do far more than physical miracles. He desires our hearts, wanting us to see with clear vision.

Road Home

Miracle moments often incite overconfidence or pride, causing us to think we can handle situations we’re ill prepared for. Jesus knows when it’s essential to establish a distance between us and the things, people or places that blind. So He takes us by the hand and leads us.

Those who responded to Him, headed straight home. No detours or distractions! Like Peter, Andrew and Philip, they followed Jesus, not blindly, but with fresh faith and sight.

Perhaps with His once-more touch upon my heart, I too will see and follow Him the same way.

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Joy to the World! The Lord Is Come

Joy to the World

Some of my fondest Christmas memories include the singing of “Joy to the World.” Its familiar chords link my past with the present, and then reaches forward to a future time.

How comforting when warm memories spring forth from some hidden well — cherished for a moment, then returned for safekeeping.

Today’s memories swirl around Austrian-German extended family and Christmas Eve services. Of course the beautiful German classic, “Stille Nacht” (“Silent Night”) would take prime position, but inevitably, “Freude der Welt” (“Joy to the World”) would also take its place. Though I never learned to speak German, even decades later, whenever I hear either of these melodies, the familiar blend of German-English simultaneously flows through my heart.

After meditating on Psalm 98, Isaac Watts scribed “Joy to the World” as a poem, pointing not to the nativity, but rather to the triumphal Second Coming of Christ. His adaptation of the psalm, usually sung at Christmas, draws us to both bow in reverence of His humble birth while also considering His return to rule and reign as Sovereign King.

Christmas Carol

Shout for Joy

Perhaps, if there is one thing we could each use a little more of this Christmas, it would be joy. Or rather, a re-centring of joy. Honestly, I have overly depended on family gatherings, church community celebrations, school programs, sparkle tours, and a host of other activities to open my joy portal at Christmas. As wonderful as they are, most only vaguely reflect the real purpose of our celebration.

The battle for joy darkens many of my Christmas memories. Oh, I “joyfully” busied myself with shopping and baking, cleaning and decorating, hosting and serving, singing and celebrating. All my efforts somehow fell short of the anticipated pinnacle I hoped for. Deep inside, I knew I was missing an important something — or rather Someone.

The days following Christmas often brought an emotional crash!

Shout for joy to the LORD,
all the earth,
burst into jubilant song with music;
make music to the LORD with the harp,
with the harp and the sound of singing,
with trumpets and the blast of the ram’s horn
— shout for joy before the LORD, the King.”
Psalm 98:4-6

Pipe Organ

Shout for joy to the LORD,” the ancient psalmist admonishes. Not, “Wait until you feel joyful. Then shout!” He calls for the shout of joy before the fulfillment of promise. Joy to the world! The Lord is come!

Choose Joy

Rather than an emotion, joy is a decision that leads to emotion. At any moment, even in the darkest and most hopeless of moments, it is possible to “shout for joy.” When shouts rise to Him, because of Him, for Him, and through Him, the “shout for joy” often brings breakthrough.

When I remember the significance of His first coming as a helpless babe lying in a manger, I’m reminded that everything good about my life results from His grace, reaching into my helplessness, bringing hope, purpose and dignity. Countless others experience the same!

Though we don’t yet see Jesus Christ as He is, someday we will. In anticipation of the coming of the King of all kings, we shout. We shout for joy!

Here is my personal paraphrase of Psalm 98:4,

“Make a joyful noise (split the ears and shout) to Yahweh, the LORD (The One Who makes that which has been made, Who brings into existence all that exists, the All-Powerful Creator, Redeemer, and Preserver) of all the earth, break forth with a ringing cry of celebration in song and music.”

Joy to the World

You may feel very little cause for such exuberance in your present circumstances, but in looking up and remembering Him, choosing joy becomes possible.

Joy to the world! The Lord is come!

Justice Reigns

Whether it sounds joyful or not, begin making a noise. Give an ear-piercing shout to the One worthy — not because of what we now see, but what will eternally be. Celebrate His birth. Then celebrate His coming again.

“Let the sea resound, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it.
Let the rivers clap their hands,
let the mountains sing together for joy;
let them sing before the LORD,
for he comes to judge the earth,
He will judge the world in righteousness
and the people with equity.”
Psalm 98:7-9

King Jesus is coming to reign and rule with justice and righteousness. Get ready! Receive Him!

King Christmas

Christmas is an extremely difficult time for many people: some grieve the loss of or separation from loved ones, others struggle with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), fear and anxiety plague even more. There are no pat answers or quick fixes. Our assurance rests in the truth. Some day — on that awe-some day — tears will be wiped away, answers will become clear.

Joy to the world! The Lord is come.

Joy to the World

No wonder this powerful carol stirs something so inexplicable within us. Listen again to the words scribed so long ago:

Joy to the world! The Lord is come;
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven, and heaven, and nature sing.

Joy to the world! The Saviour reigns;
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat the sounding joy.

Christmas Music

No more let sins and sorrow grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.

One More Memory

Many years ago, a young schoolteacher quietly made her way to the front of the sanctuary to accompany a small hodge-podge choir. They assembled for this one occasion — a small church program. At the nod of the director, her agile fingers descended upon the keys of the nondescript piano with intensity.

The chords resonated with force and accuracy, as the tiny candelabra all but lost its grip on the polished walnut surface. The entire piano seemed to come alive under her masterful touch as the audience voluntarily stood in united declaration, ‘”Joy to the world! The Lord is come!”

The Lord is Come!

Everyone present felt the significance of the moment, as they temporarily cast aside weighty cares. Some lingered in stunned silence, others stood in awe, many were filled with fresh anticipation. Christ is come; He is with us!

For a moment this little assembly caught the essence of the “why” behind the joy.

“Sing to the LORD a new song,
for he has done marvelous things;
his right hand and his holy arm
have worked salvation for him.
The LORD has made his salvation known
and revealed his righteousness to the nations.
He has remembered his love
and his faithfulness to Israel;
all the ends of the earth have seen
the salvation of our God.”
Psalm 98:1-3

Whether the psalmist looked behind or ahead, He saw the magnificence of the LORD. Joy to the world — the whole world!

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Notes: History of Hymns: “Joy to the World”
https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/history-of-hymns-joy-to-the-world

Overcoming Spiritual Impotency: Accepting Personal Responsibility

Overcoming Spiritual Impotency

Overcoming spiritual impotency starts by recognizing and accepting personal responsibility for both gains and losses. Impotent means “unable to take effective action—to be helpless or powerless.”

Before you get any wrong ideas, I’m talking in the broadest sense of living the Christian life at half-throttle, never reaching God’s full potential. Jesus set a high standard of ministry for His disciples,

“Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.”
Matthew 10:1

How wonderful to be called and given full authority to do the impossible! With opportunity comes responsibility.

Our Commission

Just a few verses later, Jesus spells out their mission more clearly,

Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.”
Matthew 10:6-8

Colt

As Christ’s followers, we are all called to “go” and “proclaim” the Good News of the Gospel. Each of us will carry out that mandate a little differently, depending on our situation and spiritual gift mix. We are all called to share God’s love with a world in need, however.

As well intentioned as I may be, I have been unable to reach the high mark Jesus has established. Although there’s a faint smattering of a few of these victories, I fall far short. I’ve been honestly seeking God and asking why. The lives of others depend on my overcoming spiritual impotency.

Pinpointing the Cause

Rather than focusing on the symptoms, we must go deeper to the cause of our powerlessness. God makes it clear, He desire us to freely give away all that we have received.

One day, Jesus invited His inner circle, Peter, James and John, up the mountain for an out of this world encounter with Moses and Elijah. Though the supernatural occurrence left them confused and questioning, they witnessed unbelievable things. Meanwhile, the other nine disciples weren’t idly waiting below. They were ministering — or rather they were unsuccessfully trying to!

” ‘You unbelieving and perverse generation,’ Jesus replied, ‘how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.’ ”
Matthew 17:17

Rodeo Horse

Ouch! How’s that for a scathing performance evaluation that no one desires to hear from their Superior? I feel the sting from this side of two thousand years!

It’s not just you and me working on overcoming spiritual impotency; the best of the best struggled too.

Matthew, who records the account, witnessed the suffering of this poor father and son. He felt the failure of his inability to set this young lad free from demonic possession and heal his troubled body and mind. Matthew knew that every Christ follower would face these same hurdles to effective ministry.

The First Problem

Signs, wonders, miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit become a visible testimony of our salvation (Hebrews 2:3-4). God delegated these things for us all, not just those in “ordained” ministry. So what keeps us from fulfilling our calling? What’s the problem?

Jesus spells it out in two words: “unbelieving and perverse.” We tend to emphasize the former and ignore the latter. Both are critical if we are going to be effective at overcoming spiritual impotence.

Unbelieving” goes beyond a littleness of faith. It also contains the aspect of not being worthy of confidence or being untrustworthy. Perhaps we have all experienced, either in our own lives or in the lives of others, a powerful sense of divine potential or excellence of calling. Yet, practically, we fall far short.

Wild Horses

I have to be bold in my self-evaluation, if I desire to overcome this malady of spirit. Can Jesus depend on me? Am I trustworthy with the gifts, abilities and opportunities He offers? Do broken, hurting people come to me and leave just as broken and hurting, or does Jesus pour out from me with healing and deliverance? Do I make excuses for my failures?

I can fully believe in God and the inerrancy of His Word, yet without verbalizing it, justify why healing won’t work this time, deliverance isn’t for me to get involved in right now, and don’t even mention raising the dead. These things belong to super-gifted, anointed Christians! Right? Here lives unbelief at the core. Yes, we know Jesus is present to heal, deliver and restore to life, but we doubt His willingness to do it here — through us.

Jesus uses the opportunity to build up their faith.

” . . . Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”
Matthew 17:20

The Second Problem

The Bible tells us that God has already given to each of us a measure or quantity of faith. Beyond question, we possess at least a mustard seed sized amount (Romans 12:3).

Overcoming spiritual impotency depends on our willingness to deal with both problems Jesus addressed. He identified the second hindrance to vibrant ministry as being “perverse.”

Horse grazing

The dictionary says that “perverse” is

“showing a deliberate and obstinate desire to behave in a way that is unreasonable or unacceptable, often in spite of the consequences.”

The Greek word, διεστραμμένη (diestrammenē), means to distort, misinterpret, corrupt, or oppose. Literally, it means to be “wrong-headed, arising from stubbornness.”

I’m perhaps way more “wrong-headed” than I realize. Every time my thoughts don’t align with His thoughts, I’m wrong-headed. In every situation where I vainly think my ways will get it done, instead of leaning into Him, I’m wrong-headed.

I can’t sluff off my stubbornness to Irish genetics. Since the fall of mankind, wrong-headed thinking has led those whom God loves to “show a deliberate and obstinate desire to behave in a way that is unreasonable and unacceptable (to God and others), often in spite of the consequences.” No one can justly claim immunity in this regard.

The Solution

God never pinpoints a problem without offering the solution. The disciples recognized they hit a legitimate ministry wall of failure and limitation. They sought Jesus’ help in overcoming spiritual impotency.

“He replied, This kind can come out only by prayer and fasting.”
Mark 9:29

Powerful Horse

Prayer and fasting align both our hearts and minds to God’s. These two disciplines draw our spirit, soul and body in surrender to the sovereignty of God. Prayer doesn’t just change things — it changes us!

“He made known his ways to Moses, his deeds to the people of Israel.”
Psalm 103:7

During Moses’ daily times in the Tent of Meeting talking with God, he came to know God — His character, His attributes, and His nature. He saw clearly the ways of God.

The people who stood back and watched God from a distance only experienced God’s deeds. They saw His miracles, ate daily of His provision, and sat under the fire by night and the cloud by day. Still, they did not “know” God! They continued to walk in deliberate and obstinate disobedience, even while knowing what was right.

Be Free

When Jesus said, “This kind can come out only by prayer and fasting,” was he referring just to a demon in a child? Could He also have been referring to our unbelief and perverse tendency?

It’s not just the demon possessed who suffer. We all do! Prayer and fasting is essential for us to overcome spiritual impotency. Only God can set us free from every “unbelieving and perverse” way. Prayer and fasting releases us from our boxes of little faith and wrong-headed thinking. Then what we have so freely received from Jesus will flow freely to others.

Horse portrait

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
Romans 12:2

The first month of the year is an excellent time to designate for prayer and fasting, resetting priorities and giving God first place. I’m asking Him what He desires to set me free from. Undoubtedly, unbelief and wrong-headed thinking hold prominent position on His list.

Unbelief originates in the heart; perversion flows from the mind. With hearts faith-filled and fully devoted to God, let’s endeavor to live with minds “clear-headed” free from every perverse way. Then we will gain the power to live victorious, bringing freedom and hope to those around us.

“The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray.”
1 Peter 4:7

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