28 July 2010

Jesus Is Our Need

John 6:22-71

Feeding the hungry, giving sight to the blind, healing the sick is wonderful.  But it is not enough.  It is not nearly enough.  Jesus did care for and meet many physical needs.  He did not ignore them.  He did not regard them as unimportant.  However, our Father in heaven did not send Jesus just to meet physical needs, but our real need, our spiritual need, our need to know and love our Father in heaven.  That is our real need.

All who come to Jesus, do so out of some need.  We want Jesus to meet our needs.  And, he freely gives.  But, he doesn't just throw us who are drowning a life preserver and move on.  He wants us desperately to come in the boat.  He wants us to trust him with our entire lives.

Jesus is the bread of life.  Jesus is the living water.  Jesus is the good shepherd.  Jesus is the gate.  Jesus is the way.  Jesus is the truth.  Jesus is the life.  Jesus is Lord.  Lord, not just of our pantries, not just of our down times when we are lonely, but of our entire lives.

Am I like this crowd?  "I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.Do I just come to Jesus to have my temporary needs met?  Do I just come to Jesus so that I can have a meal?  Do I just come to Jesus so I can feel better about my current circumstances?  Do I just come to Jesus for a gain in reputation?  Do I just come to Jesus in order to be a part of a nice club filled with nice people who sing nice songs and do nice things?

Our Father in heaven sent Jesus so that we could have more than just a meal.  He wants us to consume Him.  He wants us to love Him with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind and with all our strength.  If we want to truly repent, to truly change, to be truly different from the patterns of a world filled with death and despair and folly, we must be all in.  We must follow Jesus as Lord all the way.  We must trust Him with our entire lives.

Like the crowd, sometimes we just don't understand what Jesus is saying or what Jesus is doing or why he is leading us in a particular direction in our lives. “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?”  But, if we could understand everything that our Lord is saying and doing straight away, would we really need Him as Lord?  Would we be living in a world that is such a mess?  Would we be aching to be the kind of people we fantasize about but never really live like?

In order to have life, we must have an interactive relationship (know) the author of life.  We must know our Father in heaven.  We must know the real, true, living God.  This is why our Father sent the Son, to know our Father in heaven.  "For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me."  We do not know the real, true, living God except through Jesus.  When we come to know Jesus, we come to know our Father in heaven.

But, if we come to Jesus just for our eyes to work or our stomachs to be filled, we will not regard Him as Lord.  We will be fooled into thinking that if I can just have a meal, my life will be complete.  If I can just be able to see, my life will be complete.  If I can just meet a good, kind spouse, my life will be complete, etc...

After Jesus begged the crowd to acknowledge their real need and the real solution, they turned back and no longer went about where he was.  Even when we don't understand Jesus, even when it is hard to accept His Lordship, we must have the attitude of Peter and the twelve disciples:  "Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God."


27 July 2010

Jesus Cares For The Suffering

Mark 6:53-56

When I see someone in need, when I know a friend who is hurting, when I know a neighbour who just can't see a way out of the path she is on, do I try to bring them to Jesus or have I predetermined that they will refuse?  That's not loving, is it?  It's like withholding the only known cure for cancer from a cancer patient.

Jesus is at the height of his popularity.  He has crowds of thousands following him.  Wherever he goes, people are brought to him in the public square so they can be healed.  They even heard about how the edge of his cloak brings healing.  So, they ask and Jesus lovingly, compassionately makes himself freely available to all who believe he will heal them.

Why does God allow suffering?  It's a common question.  But this question presupposes that suffering is God's fault.  A better question is why does God care about suffering?

Seeing a world in desperate need, our Father sends His only Son.  Jesus has a short time to explain to people who He is and who His Father is.  He wants us to know, in a real, heart sense, His Father and Himself.  So what does Jesus spend a lot of this short ministry doing?  Healing people.

Clearly, Jesus, God's Son, cares about suffering.  The Word became flesh and lived among us.  And, what did He see in the world He had made.  Thousands and thousands of sick and suffering people.  It had to break His heart.  No wonder he woke up so early in the morning for time alone with the Father.  No wonder he became angry at those who cared more about when healing was taking place rather than whether healing was taking place.

Father, I am so grateful that through your Son, I see that you do care for the sick and suffering.  Your grace is amazing.  Help me to care for people the way you care for people.

21 July 2010

Jesus Empowers The Help

Matthew 14:22-33

"You of little faith, why did you doubt?Little faith?  Why didn't Jesus save that rebuke for those who were still in the boat?  Isn't Jesus being harsh to a disciple who was starting to understand what his teacher was trying to do with them?

It had been quite the day for Jesus and his disciples.  It started with the disciples returning to their teacher with excitement in their hearts.  Throughout some towns in Israel, they had been doing what Jesus was doing.  They were healing the sick, driving out demons, giving sight to the blind while proclaiming that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.  What an incredible thing that must have been.  They had been watching in awe the things that Jesus was doing.  And now, they were doing those things themselves.

As Jesus began this debriefing session with them, a massive crowd comes to them.  At first, Jesus tries to move, but then relents and heals the ones who need healing all through the day.  Jesus then feeds a crowd of at least 5000 people with five loaves and two fishes.  When he finished healing people, he dismissed the crowd in order for him to pray alone while his disciples waited for him on the boat.

What a day!  I sometimes lament that Jesus' ministry only lasted three years, but if I had full-on days like this, I would be thankful to last for three years.  Jesus is exhausted.  Jesus prays.  Jesus prays and God sends a storm.  Apparently, there is another lesson for Jesus' disciples to learn on this day.

The fierce storm blows the boat away from Jesus.  The expert fishermen give a futile effort against the strong winds to get back to where they were waiting for Jesus.  Instead of the water craft coming to Jesus.  They see this man, despite the elements and the basic laws of nature, coming to them.

Peter, in a flash of discipleship genius, gets it.  He had been doing the things that Jesus was doing in the days prior.  Why not try it now?  Jesus rewards his thinking and gives an affirmative response to Peter's request to come to Jesus.  And, he is doing it!  Peter is walking on water!

However, the triumph of a young apprentice does not last.  "Reality" sets in.  Peter begins to realise what he is doing and comes to the realisation that he is doing the impossible.  "You of little faith, why did you doubt?

What did Peter doubt?  Jesus?  No.  He had been around Jesus long enough to not doubt Jesus about anything.  What did Peter doubt?  He doubted himself.  He doubted his ability to do what Jesus told him to do.

Here is the lesson that all those who would follow after Jesus must understand.  When Lord Jesus tells us to do something, he will give us whatever is necessary to complete his mission.  The only thing that stops followers of Jesus from doing what Jesus has commanded is our will to do it.  Our doubt in ourselves, couched in all kinds of excuses and justifications, is the only thing that prevents us from doing what Jesus wants us to do.

We live in a world ruled by "survival of the fittest".  We live in a world where many of us are told by multiple sources for multiple reasons that we are no good, that we are not capable of anything.  Then, our loving Father in heaven steps in.  "For God so loved the world that he gave his only son that whosoever believes in him will not perish, but have everlasting life.

This is the true miracle of Jesus.  This is the good news.  "Repent, for the kingdom of the heavens is at hand."

Our Father in Heaven, please help me with my unbelief.

19 July 2010

Jesus Resources The Help

Image - Feeding of the 5000 by Tissot
John 6:1-15

The problem for Jesus' apprentices is never a lack of resources.  There may be a problem with lack of generosity or poor stewardship, but any group of Jesus' disciples trying to carry out Jesus' mission that Jesus has entrusted to them will never be stopped purely by lack of resources.

How important is it for future generations of Christians to know this account from Jesus' ministry?  The "Feeding of the 5000", "The Triumphant Entry" on Palm Sunday and Jesus' predictions of Judas' betrayal and Peter's denial are the only events within Jesus' ministry that are recorded by all four gospel authors (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John).

The time starts by an exhausted yet excited group of twelve disciples coming back to report to Jesus, who had also been ministering from town to town and mourning the death of his friend, on the job he had sent them out to do.  But, the crowds quickly found them.  So, they moved to the east side of the lake.  But, the massive crowd followed him.

Where else were they going to go or do?  If you had been healed and forgiven by this extraordinary man, wouldn't you follow him wherever he went?  What would be more important?  What other things in your life could possibly tear us away from what we are seeing with our eyes?  They had friends and family who desperately needed the help that only Jesus and his disciples were providing?  Where else would they going to go?

Jesus, despite his sorrow-laden fatigue, has compassion for the crowd and heals the sick.  But, in their exuberance in finding Jesus, they forgot to bring basic provisions for the journey.  The disciples want to do the prudent thing and send them away so they can get some grub.  The master teacher, however, sees the chance to teach his disciples an important lesson.  "Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?"

I don't know whether it was desperation or futility that drove Andrew to point out the boy who apparently offered his five loaves and two fishes to a crowd of over 5000.  Wouldn't it have been cool if the boy ("The kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.") who had seen Jesus help himself and/or his friends and family, who had seen Jesus give sight to the blind, who had seen Jesus heal the lame and cleanse lepers, who had probably heard about Jesus calming the storm, confidently and logically offered his meal knowing Jesus could feed such a crowd with it?

Here's a key point in following Jesus:  He never gives us a job that we cannot do.  He never asks us to do what cannot be done.  The only question after Jesus calls us to do something is whether or not we will do it NOT whether we can do it.  When our Father in heaven gives us a mission, He wants it done even more than we do.  Further, when our Father in heaven gives us a mission, He wants us to do it for our growth, for our faith and for its results.

And just to further drive home his point to his disciples, he asks them to gather the leftovers.  After he has resourced them and requested their help in feeding the crowd, they come back with one basket full of food for each of them.  Our Lord understands our needs, including our physical needs, and provides for us as well.  "Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well."

Father, thank you for being the good boss who always ensures that your workers are paid for the work that you have given to us to do.  

10 July 2010

Jesus' Friend Is Killed

Mark 6:14-29

If only John would have known the teachings of many pastors today.  John the Baptist was too negative.  He should have known that the kingdom of heaven has nothing to say about what goes on in the privacy of people's homes and bedrooms.  He should have kept his opinions just to his disciples and not publicly taken his criticism before the state authorities.  Why did John always have to preach about repentance?  Why did John have to speak on a secondary issue like family relationships?  Didn't he know that is way too personal?

 I work for a ministry that tries to convince the church to be properly involved in the formation of sound public policy affecting families and the protection of religious freedom.  FamilyVoice Australia conducts ourselves as a prophetic ministry.  

I was invited to speak to a church during two of their Sunday services about our ministry and our efforts toward making abortion unavailable. During the first service I referred to abortion (in the context of all Christians being saved by grace) as mothers choosing to murder their children.  Between services their loving pastor pulled me aside saying, "I am not telling you what to say..."  Whenever someone tells you that, they are about to tell you what to say.  He gently scolded me for being too harsh.  He feared that my words would stir up angst and guilt among the people in his congregation who had decided to abort their children.  During the second service, he skillfully directed the interview so I wouldn't have the opportunity to repeat my 'mistake'.

Now for fear of having this specific example distract from the larger point I am trying to make, let me say that I understand the importance of bringing love and compassion to both women in crisis pregnancy and women who have aborted their children.  I am the proud husband and partner to a loving woman who personally loves these women on a daily basis.  She tells me that these women, quite often, tell her and her staff that they are the first ones to put their situation in a positive light and encourage them that, yes, they can do this.  

The Christian principle when it comes to teaching and communicating with others is to speak the truth in love.  We are to speak the truth in love to those who do not know Jesus in order that they may come to know him.  And, we are to speak the truth in love to those who do know Jesus, that we may in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.  Truth and love are both necessary when communicating with one another.  As Warren Wiersbe once said, "Truth without love is brutality, and love without truth is hypocrisy."

In the kingdom of heaven, pastors and prophets have a hard time getting this balance right from both ends of the spectrum.  Pastors are shepherds who just love taking care of the sheep that have been entrusted to them.  Prophets are the alarms that shake up the comfort and safety of the flock by trying to tell them the truth of the wolves endangering them from both outside and within the flock.   Because of these different roles and perspectives, pastors and prophets don't get along very well.  But, they need to work together and see that both are needed for the good of the entire flock.

"See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves..."  While we need to speak the truth in love, even if we are flawless in holding to this principle, it does not guarantee our comfort or safety.  Followers of Jesus are still sent by a King to speak his message to another kingdom that has rejected him.  And some see the news that the kingdom of heaven is near as a declaration of war.  They will do whatever it takes to propel the invaders of their kingdom.

It is nice to think of a world where everyone regards the message of "the kingdom of heaven is at hand" as good news.  Sadly, this is fantasy, it is not reality.  Believe me, I hate talking about any kind of rebellion against God, because it is all ugly and not nice.  It would be much easier to speak that everyone is doing the right thing and none of us need to change.  It would be much easier to not criticise or accept criticism and to brush off bad stuff in this world as necessary evils that is the made up fantasies of people looking to control others.

But Jesus never, ever regards evil or the suffering in this world in this way.  To follow Jesus is to follow the whole Jesus and not just the parts of Jesus that make us feel comfortable and safe.  To follow Jesus is to stay loyal to our Father and King trusting that he is good and will not forsake his children.  Even if that means that others will mock us, despise us and seek to shut his message up by any means necessary.

To follow Jesus is to believe his words about the one whose head was delivered from a daughter at the request of her mother through her compliant father, (Please don't tell me that if women ruled the world, we would have a more peaceful place.  Sin is our universal problem, not gender.):

"I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John..."

09 July 2010

Jesus Encourages The Help

Matthew 10:26-11:1

After warning his apprentices about the harsh realities of following in his footsteps, he explains the glorious reality.  Our Father in Heaven did not do all this work in rescuing us from destruction to fail us.  Yes, Jesus is sending his disciples out "as sheep among wolves" just as he has been.  But that doesn't mean our fate belongs to the wolves.  He is still our shepherd.

Some people, including some Christians, believe that following Jesus is the hard roadTo acknowledge our Father in the presence of those who have disowned Him as their Father looks very hard indeed.  

But, how hard must it be to live in a kingdom where we will kill our own children in order to maintain it?  How hard must it be never to be trustworthy or trusting?  How hard must it be to betray anyone at any time and know that anyone can betray them at any time?  How hard must it be to live a lie?  How hard must it be to live with an itch that can never be scratched?  How cruel is it to give your life over to a kingdom that will ultimately lead to weeping and gnashing of teeth?

Our Father sends Jesus to proclaim, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near."  And the King is faithful.  He lovingly serves his servants through his son, Jesus.  Whoever rejects the King's messenger, rejects the King himself.  Whoever rejects the King's Son, rejects the King himself.  Whoever welcomes the King's Son, welcomes the King.  Whoever welcomes the King's messenger, welcomes the King.  Whoever serves the kingdom of heaven even to the point of rejecting the other kingdoms' laws of "survival of the fittest" and give help to the most helpless among us just as the most powerful being in the universe helped us, will please the King himself.

Do we trust our Father in heaven?  Do we know in our heart that our Father in heaven loves us and wants what is best for us?  Do we believe that our Father in heaven sent His only Son as sheep among wolves in order to rescue us from the pain of sin and death?

08 July 2010

Jesus Warns The Help

Matthew 10:16-25

Good news is being proclaimed.  People are being healed.  God is clearly working among the people.  Everyone welcomes the kingdom of heaven, loves Jesus and we all live happily ever after?  Nope.

Jesus always points his apprentices squarely at reality.  He doesn't have them flinch from it, escape from it or ignore it, but to firmly face the reality of our fallen world.

Here's the reality:  people have rejected the one, true God.  As a consequence, hate, futility, destruction, darkness and death has marred his creation.  Our ability to form our own kingdoms apart from the kingdom of God has left his world mangled and scarred.  His world quickly degenerated from a full, united life to survival of the fittest.

The weakest among us rightly look for any signs of hope and compassion in a world that leaves them behind.  The strongest among us skillfully carve out their own kingdom as they deftly navigate the new laws of a fallen world.  

And then Jesus comes with power, authority and wisdom.  He proclaims good news about the kingdom of heaven.  For those who haven't invested in their own kingdom very much, this is indeed good news.  But, for those who have deceived themselves into thinking they have a lot to lose if they surrender their kingdom, Jesus' proclamation is an act of war.  And they will not care who is sacrificed in order to maintain their kingdom.

Jesus lovingly warns the ones who he is training to follow in his footsteps that they have already seen, and will see worse, the reaction of those who defend their kingdom against the encroachment of the kingdom of heaven.  Jesus is and will be rejected, mocked, hated and persecuted.  Those who follow Jesus will be too.

This is hard.  I wish it didn't have to be this way.  But I appreciate Jesus' honesty to those of us who would follow in his footsteps.  His advice?  "Be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves."  In other words, don't be naive.  The world is still fallen.  It has still rejected their Father in heaven.  It is still a dangerous place for those who are loyal to the King.  But, in the face of hatred and rejection, keep our integrity.  Stay loyal to the King who gives us all we need.  Don't return evil for evil but overcome evil with good.

07 July 2010

Jesus Sends Help

Matthew 10:5-15

What a marvelous time for these chosen few.  For the first time in their lives they had real hope.  It was not a hope based on fantasy but firm reality.  How many times had they seen injustice and needless suffering and dreamt or had visions of a better world and a better life?

And then came this carpenter-rabbi from Nazareth proclaiming to all within the sound of his voice that the kingdom of heaven is at hand.  And, through him, the blind see, the lepers are clean, the deaf hear, the sick are well.  People are turning to God once again, through Jesus as he teaches about the kingdom, and they can really see that yes the kingdom of heaven is really at hand.

What's more is that Jesus has specifically set apart the twelve of them.  First of all, they had all been personally blessed by Jesus.  He had healed family members and considered them when they had not been so highly regarded before.  They had a front-row seat of what Jesus was doing.  He would make sure that they understood the stories that he would teach the crowd.  They ate together.  They traveled together.  It must have been the ultimate experience.

Then Jesus turned to them and asked them to ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest field.  Jesus likely prayed this prayer daily in his ministry.  He had healed.  He had taught.  He had forgiven.  He had explained.  And now it was time for his apprentices to go from receiving and watching the kingdom of heaven to becoming an active worker in the kingdom of heaven.

I'm not sure they realised when Jesus gave them his prayer request that they would be the answer to their own prayers.  But they were.  And, just as Jesus did during his ministry, they were to pray for the Father in heaven to send workers into his fields, find people who needed and wanted kingdom blessings and then convert into workers in the Lord of the harvest's fields.

To those of us who have grown complacent as an audience or consumer in the kingdom of heaven, when did Jesus give his disciples the command to stop making disciples?

Here are some observations as Jesus begins this phase of training for his apprentices:

  • Jesus gave them authority over unclean spirits and disease.  Without this authority, they would not be able to do the things he was doing.
  • At this point Jesus sent them only among Jews.  These were their fellow people.  This was not cross-cultural.
  • They were to proclaim what Jesus proclaimed, "The kingdom of heaven is at hand."  
  • They were blessed by Jesus expected to pass that blessing on to others.  And they were to pass that blessing on with the same generous spirit that Jesus blessed them with.
  • They were to find a "worthy person" and depend on them for daily needs as they ministered to people from that person's home.
  • They were to go from town to town NOT house to house.  Once they found a house that welcomed them, they proclaimed the kingdom from that house.
  • They were to maintain their peace in the face of rejection. 
  • The fate for any town that rejected the kingdom of heaven by not welcoming its workers or hearing their message is God's and God's alone.
Jesus changes the world one person at a time.  If you are dissatisfied with the lack of trust, intimacy and love in our world, there are three things to know.  What is wrong.  What the right life looks like.  The willingness to put our lives in the one who can take us from death to life.  "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

05 July 2010

Jesus Wants Help

Matthew 9:35-38

There is so much need.  There are so many people who are harassed.  There are so many people desperately in need of any kind of help at all.  

It didn't have to be this way, but it is.   We decided we didn't need our creator.  We decided we can have our own kingdoms.  How is that going for us?  How many times have we opined, "Well of course it would be good if everyone truly loved one another, but...we shouldn't steal from one another, but...it would be great to walk around our neighbourhoods without fear, but...loving families with a happy, devoted parents who are truly intimate to each other for life would be best for children, but..."  

How long?  How long must we sing this song?  When will we gain wisdom?  When will we surrender our kingdoms and say "Enough!"  When will we acknowledge that we do need our creator?  That we do need His kingdom in order to live life to the full?  

Thankfully our Father in heaven is not a cruel father.  Thankfully he has not left us to futilely clean up our own mess.  He sent His son to do the work that we could not do on our own.  But, in taking the form of a servant, in becoming one of us, Jesus became limited.  He could only be at one place at one time.  He needed food.  He needed sleep.  He needed rest.

I can only imagine what was going on in Jesus' mind as he was walking from town to town healing people while taking the time to proclaim the good news about the kingdom of heaven.  He did so much.  But, as much as he did, the crowds grew larger.  Jesus was rightly seen as the only hope for so many people.  People who were disregarded and ignored, their desperation taken advantage of, whose very existence was a daily struggle now saw a chance at a better life in this amazing carpenter-rabbi from Nazareth.

This visible scene is heart-breaking enough, but for Jesus who came from heaven it had to have been so much harder.  He knew the countless crowds across the face of the entire earth who needed the same message, the same work as he was doing for these relatively few in this historically obscure portion of the globe.

I can picture the expression on Jesus' face as he looked out over the harassed and helpless crowds and pleads with the very same people who he was currently training, "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.  Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field."

Generations later, in other parts of the world, there are many of us who have heard the good news of the kingdom of heaven precisely because people faithfully honoured this very request from our Lord Jesus and our Father in heaven, the Lord of the harvest, indeed answered our pleas.

And yet, for those whose eyes have been opened and hearts have been melted by our Lord Jesus to the world around us, we know that the harvest is still plentiful and the workers are still few.  Father, please keep sending out workers into your harvest field.  Thank you for gathering us together as your people and allowing us the awesome privilege of rolling up our sleeves and preparing those in your fields to be gathered as well. 

03 July 2010

Jesus Works With Those Who Believe

Matthew 9:27-34

"According to your faith, let it be done to you."  Faith is confidence.  Faith is certainty.  Faith is being sure. It is not dipping the toe in before leaping in.  It is not closing eyes expecting the worst when reaching the hand in.  Faith is a leap.

Jesus came preaching "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near."  The evidence that this is true is changed lives.  When the kingdom of heaven arrives in people's lives, they are changed.  Jesus teaches through his words and deeds that the kingdom seeks to change people from the inside out and not from the outside in.  

Typical man-made religions seek to do this.  If we do the right things, say the right things, and present ourselves to others in the right way, we will win God's favour.  Then, and only then, will we gain the "spiritual" reward that the chief deity has in store for his/her "enlightened".

Jesus teaches, however, that changed lives only occur when it's from the inside out.  This is why he seeks the broken-hearted.  God doesn't look at the things man looks at.  "Man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.How do we become the people we dream of being?  How do we become the people who are worthy to bear the image of the Most High God?  How do we become the people we have been created to be?  Whose kingdom will we put our trust in?  Ours?  How is that working for us?  Are we ready to be subject to the King of kings and the Lord of lords?

These two blind men knew who Jesus is.  By calling him the son of David, they acknowledge him as the descendant of David who was to reign forever over God's people.  They further reinforce this by calling him Lord.  They demonstrate this by their actions by continuing to call out to him and following him inside.  They confirm their faith by answering Jesus' question in the affirmative.

The friends of the demon-possessed mute knew this as well.  They knew that Jesus could help their enslaved friend.  And Jesus honors their faith.  And those without faith try to explain it away using the reason available to the truly blind.

"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near."  What followers of Jesus realise is that we do not the work of change; God does.  He works with those who see the tattered state of their kingdom and are ready to give complete surrender to the kingdom of heaven. 

"According to your faith, let it be done to you."