Category: Encountering Jesus

Word or Deed Ministry?

Should a Church focus exclusively on the Ministry of the Word or on a Ministry of Deeds? As the news of Jesus’ authority over nature and disease spread, soon there were overwhelming crowds gathering in wonder of what Jesus would do next. As the crowds impeded His ability to preach and their needs consumed His time, He would move to another town or even into the wilderness so that He could continue to freely preach the Good News about the Kingdom.  Jesus sought and found a beautiful equilibrium of word and deed in ministry. His Deed ministry was always about compassionately giving relief to people and families from their suffering, grief, misery, and distress. While His Word ministry was always about compassionately calling people and families to Faith and Repentance dealing with their deepest suffering, grief. misery and distress: their sin. In the ministry of Christ there was a synergy and integration of Deeds and Words working together so people would believe the message of the gospel. He saw ALL people as sick, all people as sinners and it was only those who admitted their need for the Doctor of their Souls who qualified for a place in his kingdom.

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What to say to be forgiven…

It was the moment he had been waiting for and he was about to blow it!  He must have rehearsed in his mind what he would say on the day he would get to meet Jesus, but when the opportunity came, the cat had a hold of his tongue. He tried to speak but nothing comes out. The man who was paralyzed by something in his past (cf. Mark 2:1-12) makes no requests when he finally gets into the presence of the Savior. But surprisingly, the Savior makes the pronouncement, “Son, your sins are forgiven!” Which raises the question….”How could Jesus forgive the sins of a person who hasn’t repented?”

Moments earlier Jesus read the minds of the scribes revealing their skepticism about his ability to forgive sins and now he easily hears the unarticulated inner cry for mercy from the humble heart of the paralyzed man. And Jesus forgives him without requiring a rigid adherence to a confession/repentance formula. The Savior neither  requires an accounting nor full compliance with the rules, even though He has every right to make any demand He pleases. Jesus is so favorably inclined towards us and He forgives us gratuitously and invasively. We need never again believe that Christ is reluctant to forgive us. Your jumbled thoughts are like an extended series of novels to Him; your confused emotions are perfected stacked and sorted.

Paralyzed by Past Guilt

Do you ever wonder if God has forgotten you? Do you know what it’s like to feel worthless, broken and defective? Deep down do you question whether God is punishing you for a past mistake? Well, that’s how the paralyzed man in Mark 2:1-12 felt. He was paralyzed by something in his past that hindered him from coming into the presence of Jesus. There are lots of things that paralyze us so that we feel that we can’t move forward; many things that prevent us from entering into the presence of Jesus. Sometimes we find ourselves paralyzed by the guilt of the past. The problem is that our guilt has never been touched by the forgiveness that Jesus offers us in the gospel.

Guilt comes to us in two ways: 1) a legal guilt before the Holy Judge that comes from the violation of His law and 2) the guilty feelings of remorse that result from what we’ve done. The legal guilt is the real problem but the heavy burden of carrying guilt or the feelings of being dirty, unwashed and defective is often the experience. Thankfully, the Cross takes care of the legal guilt and the guilty feelings. Jesus invites you on a journey back into the ruins of your past to pronounce over you, “Not Guilty” before the Judgment Seat. Hear His strong voice say with authority to you, “There is now no condemnation for you because you are MINE.” After His declaration, He takes off the Judge’s robe to reveal the clothing of a servant grasping a basin and a towel. As He washes you, hear His tender voice say to you, “I wash you with my blood and you shall be whiter than snow. You will have a clean heart and your sins I will see no more. You can now live in joy and gladness in my presence. I will never leave you or turn my back on you. Let the joy of My Salvation be restored to you and may you walk with confident support into future obedience through the power of my Spirit” (Cf. Romans 8:1-4; Hebrews 13:5Psalm 51:7-12) Our only hope to walk again is to encounter the Savior who gives us Grace to Live Today and Bright Hope for Tomorrow.

Jesus, please numb my pain!

Do you want to heal it or just numb the pain?” That’s what the Pharmacist asked a 12- year-old John Estorge in response to complaints of burning mouth ulcers. Not being a fan of pain, I contemplated the question for a moment thinking,  “Who cares about healing, I just want it to stop hurtingI’ll take the topical anesthetic please!”

I’ve discovered this same principle working in my children who don’t care for healing treatments for their skinned knees, or to endure the necessary pain associated with the extraction of a splinter, they just want band-aids. Sadly, this is often our typical response to the difficulties in our lives even as we pray. We don’t typically think that our real problem is the principle of sin living within us. Instead we blame circumstances or find fault with others as the real problem. We pray, “God, please change these circumstances, give me relief to my pain, and please change the way this other person acts.” While we anticipate that the remedy will come by a relief of our pain, a change in circumstances or the repentance of others, we fail to identify the real issue: our own personal sin and miss the real cure: forgiveness of our sins and getting closer to Jesus.

We are often like children who just want the punishment to end, rather than seeking forgiveness for the offense. Or we’re like the paralyzed man and his friends who sought  the healing of a physical limitation instead of the greater need, the forgiveness of His sins and drawing closer to Christ (Cf. Mark 2:1-12). The paralyzed man was surprised by what His encounter with the Savior delivered to him. Jesus went beyond everyone’s expectations to give more than what was requested to get to the root of the problem: “When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.'”

Jesus bestows health to the body, beginning with not only the removal of the cause and origin of disease, but in meeting his and our REAL NEED. We all need this ongoing inner healing of our hearts so we can experience the forgiveness of our sin, the resolving of our guilt and shame, the mitigation of our our anger, and the settling of our minds in the midst of fears. This only happens as we get closer to the Lord who through His Son, has healed you of the only disease that can really kill you, your sin. He is the Only One who has the authority and power to provide the only real cure, forgiveness. What we need so much more than a numbing of the pain or a change in circumstances is getting our hearts closer to a God who has declared us Right with Him through the work of His Son.

God is good and terrible at the same time

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch ...

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Before the children encounter Aslan in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Mr. Beaver is trying to describe what Aslan is like when he is interrupted by Susan, who seems to have an exaggerated need for her personal security, asks “Is he—quite safe?”  To which Mr. Beaver replies, “Who said anything about safe”?  “Course he isn’t safe.  But he’s good.” Later in the narrative when the group finally meets Aslan, C.S. Lewis’s narrator tells us, “But as for Aslan himself, the Beavers and the children didn’t know what to do or say when they saw him.  People who have not been in Narnia sometimes think that a thing cannot be good and terrible at the same time.”

This image of Aslan, who is both good and terrible at the same time, is particularly challenging for Christians who think of God as their safe, huggable bestest buddy. While the Lord is certainly good, compassionate and approachable, He is also fear-inspiring and awesome!

And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. 16And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” 17His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”John 2:15-17

Jesus demands First Place

If I make the claim that my wife is prominent in my earthly affections, that’s not saying very much. All I would be saying is that within my heart’s desires, she is noticeable and easy to see among all of the other competing passions in my life. In my earthly affections, my wife should reign as preeminent, surpassing all others and without peer or rival. As Christ should be preeminent over all in my heart! Jesus comes to us passionately and jealously because His Father’s Preeminence consumed Him (Cf. Psalm 69:9, 119:139; John 2:17) Christ was so zealous that His Father would have First Place in our hearts that during at least one scene He became an Army of One driving the idolaters from His Father’s house. He was so jealous for the honor of His Heavenly Father and His Temple that it ate Him up. Paul reminds us of the Majestic Supremacy of Christ who is entitled to have First Place in our hearts,

And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:17-20)

So just as a newly married bride is given a new name and an accompanying identity, the new identity is the only incentive she needs to live a life which her affections are set exclusively on her husband. Before she may have felt some affection for others but now her husband is the  preeminent affection of her heart so that anything which would distort or destroy that affection must be insistently refused. So with us who are united to Christ.

Prayer for a Focused Heart

Fire

Image by andrewmalone via Flickr

Do you find it easy for your heart to lose its focus on Christ and doing His Will? I think there is natural drift in all of our hearts especially when our little worlds feel chaotic and our eyes attend to  circumstances rather than remembering the generosity and grace of our Lord. And sometimes we forget that Christ’s design in coming into the world was to reform the world and in doing so, He expects that His followers would be radically identified with Him. As we identify with Him and follow Him, we seek to cooperate with the work of His Spirit in the reforming of our hearts and lives. Thankfully even as we make a mess of things, He still remembers His gratuitous covenant which He has made with us through His Son.

The prophet Malachi writes, “See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. He will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; He will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness.”  Take a moment with the following prayer:

Grant, Almighty God, that as Satan strives to draw me away from my full attention in serving You through the circumstances of disorder and confusion in my world;  — O grant, that I may know that You still have a tender affection for me; and if I perceive that you don’t by what I find in my world, may I rely on Your Word, and not doubt that You always watch over my safety; and being supported by this confidence, may I always continue in the path of my calling: and as You have designed to make me a partaker of the greatest evidence of Your favor in being reconciled to  You through Your only-begotten Son; and being made one with Him,  may I never hesitate to cheerfully offer my services to You, however defective they may be, since You have once promised to be a generous  Father to us, so as not to rigidly test what I offer to You, but so graciously to accept it, that we may know that not only my sins, which justly deserve condemnation, are forgiven and laid aside, but that You also bear with my infirmities and my defects in my imperfect works, that I shall at length receive the reward which You have promised, and which I cannot attain through personal merits, but through the sanctification of Your Spirit, and through the sprinkling of the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. — Amen.

(paraphrased from Calvin’s prayer at the end of his commentary on Malachi)

Wine for the Soul

This image shows a red wine glass.

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This is Part 3 of a three part series on Jesus and Wine: See Part 1, Part 2

The gospel tastes so much better than Chicken Soup, it is actually Wine for the Soul.  For his first miracle, Moses turned water into blood, the curse of the law turning common comforts into bitterness and terror (Exodus 7:14-25). But Jesus’ first miracle was turning water into the most delicious wine , the blessing of the gospel bringing delight, comfort and happiness to those who believe (John 2:1-11). The gospel of Jesus Christ is wine for the soul that lifts the countenance and brings good cheer to the heart. The gospel call has always been, “Come, all you who are thirsty, …Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost… Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.” (Isaiah 55:1-2) The Goodness of God is poured out on us abundantly in Christ, who holds all the treasures of the grace of God (Col. 2:3) and from His fullness we have received, grace upon grace (John 1:16). And in Him our souls can feast on the the milk, wine and bread of the gospel.

Jesus Makes the Best Wine

I have always been impressed that the coming out party of the Son of God was during a wedding reception where He transformed water into the best tasting wine imaginable. The narrative of the wedding miracle is recorded in John 2:1-11 where Jesus Christ showed Himself publicly to be the God of all Creation who makes the earth to bring forth wine. Psalm 104:14-15 reminds us that “He makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for man to cultivate—bringing forth food from the earth: wine that gladdens the heart of man, oil to make his face shine, and bread that sustains his heart.” He is the God who made vegetables to farm for food, wine to make your heart happy, oil to give you a glowing complexion and bread to give you strength for work. And His presence at a wedding reception and His provision of wine bearing the Master’s seal of approval shows that we have a Savior who wants to make our hearts happy.

To bring the miracle into perspective, I did some research regarding how to plan a wedding reception and found a website which ironically stated Rule #1 in planning your Wedding Reception as, “Make sure you always have enough drinks on-hand for your guests.” The recommendation went on to inform that “The majority of parties and receptions run from 2 to 4 hours and you will need to plan on an average of 3 drinks per person for the first 2 hours.”

200 guests will drink 600 drinks in 2 hours = 120 bottles of wine

But Jesus goes overboard with his provision toward the end of the reception in Cana taking six water pots holding thirty gallons each and filling them to the brim with water before perfecting His wine.

6 waterpots x 30 gallons =180 gallons =  over 908 bottles of wine

When it comes to meeting this need, Jesus gives more than enough which reminds me of the immortal words of Matthew Henry, “His Supply is often better than His Word, but never worse.” Christ wonderfully supplies an abundance of the very best wine at the party’s end while the common practice would have been to bring out the good wine at the beginning of a feast, when the guests have their heads clear and their appetites fresh, and can enjoy it, and will commend it; but after they have had much to drink, when their heads are confused, and their stomachs are full, they don’t notice if it is good wine or cheap wine. With wine and with other substances there is a law of diminishing returns so that the first glass tastes wonderful but after a while you can hardly taste it. Certainly this is one of the reasons why Jesus models for us a moderate partaking of his gifts because He wants us to enjoy them as He designed them to be enjoyed. For when we drink a glass or two of wine we enjoy an unparalleled taste sensation which is accompanied by a happy heart but when we drink a lot of wine we only get drunk.

And certainly it was His intention that there would be some wine left over at the end of the banquet to attest to the miracle so that others would believe. I can imagine people coming for weeks on end to the reception hall to see and perhaps tasted the miraculous 180 gallons of wine which was perfectly balanced, crafted with a pleasing bouquet, rich tannins and a delightful finish. Moreover, if you had just witnessed the abundant and delightful miracle, you wouldn’t desire to drink to excess, you would anxiously taste and spend the remainder of your time praising the One who crafted it. Jesus saved the best for last, as He will when He brings the fullness of his Best Provision at the Final Wedding Feast where His betrothed bride, the church will be fully united to Him in the consummation of his Kingdom. For it is a trustworthy saying that, Those that follow Christ will feast with Him!

An Eating and Drinking Savior

What are we to think about our Lord Jesus Christ attending a wedding reception, an event where excesses are common and at different times in history, clergy had even been forbidden to attend? Some are uncomfortable with such a scene and salve their consciences by fabricating a history of an early weakened fermentation. Even if there were grains of truth in the claims, drunkenness still existed and Christians were exhorted not to be drunk with wine and qualified elders were not to be drunkards (Cf. Eph. 5:18; 1 Tim. 3:1:3). It was later said of Jesus, “For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!‘ (Luke 7:33-34). At least during his public ministry as an adult, Jesus lived like the average person and did things according to the customs of his day. The custom of his day was that people commonly drank wine, so He drank wine and ate the foods he was offered. John the Baptist by contrast confined himself to a peculiar diet, and even abstained from ordinary food.

Calvin comments, “Those who think that the highest perfection consists in outward austerity (strictness) of life, and who pronounce it to be an angelical life …when a person will drink no wine ought to attend to this passage.” He argues that if the highest level of holiness is wrapped up in abstaining from wine, then principally, John the Baptist would have to rank higher than the Son of God. Of course, Jesus by His example gives us no license to indulge in luxuries nor does He grant permission to those who have been under the dominion of strong drink. While Christ accommodated himself to the usages of ordinary life, he always maintained a sobriety truly divine and He did not encourage excesses or unlawful behavior.

Christ was never interested in an outward form of spirituality and was insistent that it’s not what a person takes into his mouth that defiles him but what comes out of his heart (Cf. Matt. 15:11). The Apostle Paul exclaimed that his boast was the testimony of his conscience in that he behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity by the grace of God and that he was concerned that the some were being led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ (Cf. 2 Cor. 1:12 ; 11:2-4). In other words, neither Christ nor the Apostle Paul gave us any room to create a Christian spirituality that was defined by what we ate or drank but instead modeled a spirituality of love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience and a sincere faith (1Tim. 1:5). Abstaining from one practice or another is not what counts, but instead what counts is faith working itself out through love (Cf. Gal. 5:6). When it came to drinking, Jesus encouraged a moderate and contextual use of his created gifts.