Month: September 2018

Is seeing believing or believing seeing? (Luke 24:13-35)

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Believing

It’s common to hear people say things like; “seeing is believing” and yet in this encounter with Jesus and the two men on the Emmaus road we see that believing leads to seeing.

So often, we want to see and then we will believe but in the Kingdom of God, on the journey of faith with Jesus, it is in fact the opposite way around.  Faith is what opens our eyes to see the realities of the King and His kingdom.

The disciples on the road were not seeing Jesus.  They were not recognising Him being right there with them, they were not understanding the events in Jerusalem and even the events from that morning with the empty tomb and Mary’s testimony – that they were telling the unknown traveller about… Oh how similar I and we are to them!

Jesus gently rebukes them calling them “foolish ones”, ones who can’t understand who haven’t seen and then Jesus gives the reason they didn’t see or understand;

“O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken” (Luke 24:25)

Believing leads to seeing.  Hebrews 11:3 says; “By faith we understand…”  Note the order there.  Faith leads to understanding in God’s kingdom.

How often aren’t there circumstances in our lives which are hard to understand or make sense of, circumstances that undermine our faith, and yet it is faith that is needed to help us to understand in those moments.

These disciples were in the midst of mind-bogglingly tough days. Jesus their hope, the One they were following and the One they were increasingly feeling was in fact the Messiah was captured. Jesus was tried and crucified!  Some then saying He had risen again?

What these disciples needed was to have faith, to believe all that the Old Testament had foretold about Jesus and all that Jesus Himself had told them about what would happen to Him and what He had come to do. Because of their lack of faith, they were perplexed, unseeing, unable to recognise what was happening and who in fact was right there with them through it all.

And yet, Jesus is so gracious and kind.  He opens their minds and their eyes and shows to them who He is, gives them the sight they were lacking and helps them to see who He was that was walking with them and how all of the Old Testament foretold these events!

May we remember in those life moments when we can’t see or can’t understand that faith is the key to seeing. Our faith in who God is, our faith in what Scripture says, that faith is the key to seeing and understanding or even experiencing God’s presence right there with us in the midst of it all.

May you seek to grow in your faith so that you might see life and circumstances through the eyes of faith, and may you call on Jesus who is so willing to gracious help you in your faith!

Who is Jesus? (Matthew 16:13-28)

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Every person on the planet has to answer that question at some point in their life.  Jesus is the central figure of all of human history, Jesus is the one person of whom it is not possible to have no opinion of or to ignore forever.

Those around Jesus in the crowds and amongst the pharisees, even the disciples themselves were all trying to work Jesus out!  A man claiming to be God’s Son, the promised Messiah?  Could it be?  And if you think about it for even a moment, I believe that the vast majority of us would have been the same quandary.

Jesus knows this, and so probingly He asks the disciples; “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” (Matthew 16:13)  The answer is diverse because the theories were diverse – no one really had a good handle of who Jesus was. 

Some said Jesus was John the Baptist raised from the dead (Matthew 14:1-2), some thought Jesus was the fulfilment of an Old Testament prophecy (see Malachi 4:5) or maybe Jesus was in fact Jeremiah or one of the other prophets..?

All those responses were interesting but Jesus, getting right to the point then asks His disciples; “But who do you say that I am?”  There’s no wriggle room here, they are on the spot… 

All of us will face a moment just like this one at some point in our lives – “Who do you say that I am?”.  In that moment there will be no referencing others, just the need to give an account for what we have believed about Jesus for ourselves.

I am certain there was a moment of silence before the disciples all felt a wave of relief wash over them as they heard Peter limbering up to speak first…

“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” – Peter said to Jesus (Matthew 19:16)

Nailed it!  Peter in a moment of revelation given to Him by God Himself (vs17) sees Jesus in splendid clarity.  Jesus is the Messiah (the meaning of ‘Christ’), Jesus is the begotten Son of God. Truly God, truly man – what a mystery revealed.  Peter didn’t just see Jesus in that moment, but Peter also believed what He saw about Jesus.

Who do you say Jesus is?  You can delay your answer for a period of time.  But in the end of the day, everyone of us will have to answer that question ourselves before Jesus.

So, what’s your answer?

I pray that you might have the Spirit of wisdom and revelation so that You may know Jesus fully (Ephesians 1:17) and I pray that you might have power to grasp the magnitude and magnificence of Jesus and His love for you.  So that you like Peter would be filled with revelation knowledge of Jesus, and that as a result you might be filled to overflowing with the fullness of God in your life! (Ephesians 3:14-19)

Jesus is the Messiah, the only One worthy of all our worship and adoration.  May you see those truths, may they transform you from the inside out, may they impact your life 24/7 and forevermore. 

Lastly, if you already know Jesus as Messiah and Lord of your life, why don’t you choose three people in your life who wouldn’t yet answer Jesus as Peter did.  Why not beginto pray for them.  Start by praying the prayer I’ve prayed for you in the paragraph above.  Pray that they would come to know and love Jesus.  Then in addition to praying, invest in their lives relationally, and look then invite them to contexts that would help move them towards faith in Jesus.

Do vs believing it’s DONE (Matthew 19:16-30)

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A young man, an achiever in life wants to know how to ensure that he obtains eternal life.  He seemingly has everything he wants in this life, but maybe he is intrigued by things Jesus has been saying about eternal life and he wants to know how to obtain it. 

So he asks Jesus what he needs to DO to get what he wants (vs16).  This young man is steeped in religion.  Religion always gives one something to DO in order to be accepted.

Following Jesus is nothing like religion and so Jesus is going to reveal the difference between following Him and religion.  The man wants to DO something to gain God’s acceptance (that’s religion) and so Jesus plays along with him; 

“Keep the commandments” – Jesus says to the man.  “Done” the man says, I have kept them all (vs20).  ‘You want to be perfect?’ Jesus effectively says to the man?  ‘You want to know you DID enough, then just do one more thing’, Jesus says.

Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. (Matthew 19:21-22)

This man, in fact no person can DO enough to satisfy God’s requirements.  No one is righteous (Romans 3:11-12), all fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), the only way to be right before God is to accept the righteousness of God that’s apart from what you DO (Romans 3:21), a righteousness that’s from God through faith in Jesus (Romans 3:23). 

That’s grace, that’s the gospel, that’s the good news Jesus brings for each one of us – the way to eternal life is to believe in Him, to trust in what He has DONE for us. And that is the only way to obtain eternal life.

It’s a funny thing, but grace is not appealing to all people.  Although God’s grace offers us forgiveness and acceptance soley on the basis of believing in what Jesus has DONE for us, that very offer is offensive to a religious person!  How so?

It’s offensive, because in order to receive grace you have to accept that you have not been able to DO enough yourself!  In order to receive grace you have to accept that you need grace and that is a humbling hit to the pride that religion breeds.

Scripture says that the young man went away sorrowful, he did not believe Jesus who answered the question he had asked at first.  He did not believe that letting go of everything that he had been trusting in, to trust in Jesus was worth it, was the right choice.  He didn’t want to humble himself so as to receive grace, and so he went away sorrowful…

Receive Jesus’ grace daily.  Trust in what Jesus has DONE for you and don’t ever put your trust in what you can DO in order to please God.

Believe Jesus, believe Scripture.  Believe that nothing in this life is worth living for, saving up or hoarding when compared to what Jesus offers those who will lay everything down to believe in Him and to follow Him.  Surrender your whole life, all you have to Jesus – you will never reget it.  Not in this life and not in eternity either.

Courageous Faith (Mark 10:46-52)

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If you think about it, this is quite an introduction we have to the blind man who cries out to Jesus in Mark 10.  As Jesus is leaving Jericho with a large crowd and His disciples in toe, Jesus encounters a man who is introduced in Mark’s gospel as; ‘Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus’ (vs46).  

A little digging reveals that this is not a flattering introduction at all.  This man’s name means ‘son of the unclean or foul one’!  What’s the story behind that name?  Now this extended family was seemingly not into uplifting names as Bartimaeus’ dad’s name means ‘foul or impure’.  And if that’s not enough Mark’s gospel records that this man who is son of ‘the unclean one’ is also tagged as a blind beggar!  He is disabled in his body, and due presumably to his condition he is one who makes a living by begging from others. 

How terrible to have names such as these, tags such as these attached to a person’s identity!  How damaging must that have been to him, how degrading, to feel like all you can do is to sit on the side of the road and call out to people you hear walking past, asking daily for their mercy and alms.

What’s your name?  Do you have a derogatory name or nick name, or a name that tells a sad story that has somehow become your story?

Well for this man, that day recorded for us in Mark 10 is going to be no ordinary day.  That day Jesus the son of God was going to pass by Bartimaeus.  He couldn’t see Jesus but he could hear the commotion, and when Bartimaeus was told who it was passing him by Bartimaeus began to cry out; “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (vs48)  

We know from Jesus’ own assessment (see vs52) that this cry of Bartimaeus was a cry of faith in Jesus.  Faith is “believing God”, and Bartimaeus believed that Jesus in that moment was worth risking calling out to.  There were crowds with Jesus, self-important scribes and Pharisees.  According to those around Jesus, Bartimaeus did not warrant Jesus’ attention, he was not worthy of bothering Jesus.   But Bartimaeus believed that it was worth pushing through the opinions of others, if it meant he could get Jesus’ attention.  And so Bartimaeus reaches out to Jesus, believing that Jesus can transform his situation and believing that Jesus maybe saw him differently to all the others who could not get past his name, his upbringing, his disability or his way of scrapping a living…

Sometimes we have to overcome obstacles in our heads to get to really encounter Jesus.  When you are in a meeting and you feel like you want to respond for prayer during the worship or after the preached word, you face something milder but similar to what Bartimaeus faced.  “What will other people say or think?”  or “I am embarrassed, and I don’t want anyone looking at me.”  And so often it is possible to feel Jesus’ presence in the room in the moment and to feel like you want to encounter Jesus but you hold back for fear of others and what they will say.

But not Bartimaeus!  Those people who were trying to shut him down and keep him quiet only served to make him louder, insistent and more urgent; “Son of David, have mercy on me!” (vs48)  And because Bartimaeus pushed through, Bartimaeus stopped the Son of God, got Jesus’ attention (vs49) and had Jesus ask him; “What do you want me to do for you?” (vs51)

Bartimaeus was healed because he did not allow the thoughts of others to dissuade him.  Bartimaeus was more interested in encountering Jesus than bothered about caring what other people thought of him. 

Resolve today to be like Bartimaeus, to press through the thoughts of others or even just your perception of the thoughts of others – don’t let anything stop you from encountering Jesus, calling out to Him, for He loves to stop for those who seek Him out like Bartimaeus did.  And next time you have an opportunity to be prayed for – take it, take it with both hands, encounter Jesus and have your life transformed like Bartimaeus did.

9:1 (Luke 17:11-19)

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Ten people all in a desperate situation.  All outcasts excluded from society, from relationships and normal interactions.  Everyone of them with their lives on hold because of a circumstance brought on by a physical condition.  They all needed God.    

One day none other than Jesus walks on to the horizon of their lives.  Can you imagine the conversations bouncing around this motley gathering of people, united by misery?  

“Is that Jesus of Nazareth?”  “Isn’t he the man they say raised the young girl back to life?”  “I heard he healed a man born blind” “Isn’t he the one they say calmed the storm on the lake with one command from his mouth?”… 

It’s not hard to imagine the conversation excitedly ramping up then to something like; 

“Guys this is our moment!  If the stories about him are true maybe he will perform a miracle and heal us!”  And so they cry out; “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us” (Luke 17:13)

Testimonies, God-stories about others encountering God can have an effect on our own faith.  There is no evidence that this band of 10 believed at all in Jesus prior to this moment.  But when Jesus was present, the testimonies of others primed their own faith causing them to believe that Jesus could have mercy on them and free them from their painful circumstances.

Jesus sees them.  Jesus acknowledged these people who were outcasts and untouchables in that society.  Jesus gives them dignity by responding to their cry for help.  Jesus stops his journey to speak with them, Jesus is not too busy, not too self-important to stop for them.  Jesus is amazing!

Just the other night I was convicted by the Holy Spirit of being totally unlike Jesus was here in this encounter.  I had taken my wife out for a date and we had just had a nice meal.  A man I had not seen before appeared out of the shadows near our car as we tried to get into it (as often happens in South Africa).  He was looking for some money, which I was going to give, but then as we got really close he started suddenly pleading urgently and awkwardly and I baulked, got in the car and drove off – I am sad to say.  In the moments that followed my sense of having not been like Jesus increased and so I repented and asked for God’s forgiveness.  Now one could make arguments against giving in certain settings, but that’s not the point – the point is Jesus stopped and still stops for people and I want to be more like Jesus!

Jesus tells these 10, to go and show themselves to the priests which in our day equates to Jesus saying, “Go, get checked out by the Doctor and you’ll find you’ve been healed and can re-enter normal life!” (see vs14)  They must have looked down at their various sores and lesions which Scripture did not say were healed instantly, rather it says; “And as they went they were cleansed.” (vs14)

It appears as though the healing required a second step of faith.  Step 1 was believe Jesus can heal you and cry out to Him.  Step 2 seems to have been for them believe Jesus that you won’t be wasting your time getting checked out to see if you’re healed because I am going to heal you.  Step 3 “and as they went” they were healed.  They had to take a step of obedient faith and then they were healed.

All 10 are healed as they go on their way and it seems 9 of the 10 just keep going and never come back to thank Jesus.  

Sadly I have seen this pattern repeat itself over and over again over many years.  We have prayed for countless unemployed people, or people wanting a better job, or marriages that are in need….and then when God breaks into people’s lives, in the moment that they should be thanking God, telling the God-story for God’s glory and then continuing to live for God – they disappear.  God warned Israel of doing this to Him in Deuteronomy 8:11-20 saying; “take care lest you forget the Lord your God” (vs11) when God answers your prayers for a Promised Land, “beware lest you say in your heart, my power and the might of my hand have gotten me this” (vs17).

But one of the men did return to Jesus, fell on his face before Jesus’ feet and gave thanks worshipping Jesus for the miraculous and instant healing he had received.  May we be like this guy!  May we be those who honour God as the source of all good gifts to us.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. (James 1:17)

May we be those who don’t only remember God when we feel like we need Him, but who remember God when we need to praise, honour, worship and thank Him.  After all God is worthy of praise always, everyday, for giving us Jesus who died on the cross for our sins and healed us not of some disease but delivered us from sin and sin’s punishment to come.  Live your whole life as a response of love to Him.

I AM… (John 8:12-59)

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God who encountered Moses in the burning bush moment, God who revealed Himself to Moses using the name; “I AM who I AM” (Exodus 3:14) is the unseen Almighty God of Scripture.  John in his gospel reveals that Jesus is the visible, tangible, personal revelation of that same unseen God, Yahweh (John 1:18).

In this encounter, Jesus is engaging with the Pharisees & Scribes who had just prior to his brought the adulterous woman to him in an attempt to catch him out and have him arrested.  Jesus authoritatively restores the woman to a place of dignity and challenges them regarding their self-righteousness and spiritual blindness.

They’re still standing there in what appears to be a hostile mood and so Jesus engages them in some verbal jousting.  Jesus is provocative!  He uses a phrase translated “I am” 13 times in this single encounter.  Now in one sense he is just using an ordinary phrase; “I am going” but He knew what He was doing.  He was making a point implicitly which he eventually makes explicitly in vs58.

The Greek translation of the Hebrew OT (called the Septuagint) uses the same phrase Jesus uses 13x in His conversation with the Jews opposing Him here in the Genesis 3:14 account of God with Moses. 

Here in John 8, the Jews are demanding that Jesus answer the question; “Who are you?” (vs25) and throughout this conversation Jesus is hinting at Exodus 3:14 until eventually He says it explicitly in John 8:58 and when He does they immediately picked up stones to stone Him on the spot as they got it – Jesus was claiming to be the same God who encountered Moses in Genesis 3:14.

Who is Jesus?  

This is the question that every person on the planet needs to answer at some stage in their life or ultimately on the day Jesus  Himself returns.  And when it comes to this question, we really only have three options;

    • Jesus is a ‘Conman’
    • Jesus is a ‘Madman’
    • Jesus is ‘God/man’

Some people would want to add that maybe Jesus was a simply a ‘Good man/Good teacher’ but that’s not an option really if you consider that we don’t call people who have delusions of deity good and would not encourage people to sit and learn from such people either – we would resign such a person to the Conman or Madman categories!

When Moses encountered God in the burning bush moment, God told Moses; “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” (Exodus 3:5) and in that moment in response “Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.” (Exodus 3:6)  Similarly, when Isaiah encountered God and saw a vision of God in glory in heaven, he crumpled before God falling on his face keenly aware of his sinfulness and God’s greatness (Isaiah 6) – this is who Jesus was claiming to be.

Friend, although Jesus was and is a man, don’t for a minute loose sight of the fact that He is one and the same God of glory, majestic and mighty, holy, or as Colossians 1 says of Jesus;

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 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. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.  (Colossians 1:15-20)

So, worship Jesus, stand in awe and wonder at Him, bow before Him and surrender your whole life to Him and then live the rest of your days for Him and for His purposes alone.  Amen.

Meaning-Makers (John 9:1-41)

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We are meaning-makers.  We want to know, love to know, try to know – why?  We look for cause and effect, we are inquisitive.  Now this is mostly good, but it can get us into trouble too!  As we all too often from our limited finite human perspective reach the wrong conclusions!

The man in John 9 was born blind.  The meaning-makers wanted to know why?  Who’s fault was this? Was he blind because God was punishing him or punishing his parents in some way?  Sound familiar?

As a pastor, I often encounter people who have had something hard happen to them and often the big questions are something like; ‘Why did this happen?’ or ‘Why has God done this to me or allowed this to happen?’

Jesus answered their question with an emphatic “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9:3)  This will not always be the reason for sickness or suffering, but it was the reason given by Jesus in this instance.  ‘This man is blind SO THAT I can show God’s power over sickness and suffering’ – Jesus essentially said.

Jesus’ answer wasn’t one of the potential causes they had thought of.  And maybe there is a hint there for us: we often will not know.  And so the trite little answers like those of the people surrounding this blind man, are often just unhelpful as they don’t help us to know the ‘why’.  It’s tough for ‘meaning-makers’ but it is true, we will not always know or be able to answer the ‘why’ questions fully.  However there is a grid that might be helpful:

The 3 possible sources of pain/hurt/suffering:

In my experience and from Scripture, I believe that one can understand there being three potential sources for pain/hurt/suffering:

1. Our own sinful actions

One of the sources of pain and hardship in our lives is in fact ourselves, our own actions.  We do at times bring pain upon ourselves!  We make bad mistakes, we have character flaws, we make bad/ungodly/unwise decisions and do sometimes suffer the natural consequences thereof.

So many of the pastoral issues we end up dealing with as a church leadership are the result of ungodly decision-making and the mess that inevitably follows.  But, think about this for a moment.  This is the one source of pain and suffering/hardship over which we have some control.  There is not a lot you can control in your life, but you can seek to grow in godly wisdom and it will have a direct positive impact on your life.  

2. The Age we live in

Much of what is hard in our lives can simply be put down to this BIG category in which a number of sub-categories or sources of pain fit.  This age we live in post-Fall & pre-Jesus’ Second Coming:

    • Is an age in which we have a very real enemy who can bring suffering (Job is an example) 
    • Is an age in which the systems of this world are impacted by sin and so cause inequality, poverty, oppression, injustice
    • Is an age in which the natural world itself is impacted by sin and so there are things like erosion, pollution, natural disasters…
    • Is an age in which our bodies are decaying (death, sickness is part of the curse), and so in this age we are struck down by sickness & disease battling scourges like cancer and HIV…
    • Is an age in which the sinful actions of others impact us; hijacking, robbery, relational hurt, rape, abuse… 

3. God’s loving Fathering of us  

Hebrews 12:5-11 teaches that part of the plan of our loving Heavenly Father is to produce holiness & Christlike character in us and to use us to fulfill His good purposes on the earth and to ultimately bless us in eternity.  Sometimes, God is at work in the trial or the pain in order to accomplish something in us or through us.  The John 9 man is an example of this potential source of trials, as Jesus Himself declared that to be the reason for his suffering up to that point.

Knowing the potential source of the pain, should inform our best response to that pain.  If it’s self-imposed then stop it, repent and change.  If it’s the age we live in, you might need to pray more for God’s guidance as to how best to respond.  If it’s potentially your loving Father at work in some way, you need to ask Him to help you know how best to respond or what to do or pray.

The John 9 man gets healed miraculously and his previous disability becomes his powerful testimony to the rulers opposing Jesus!

Faith Rewarded Mark (5:21-43)

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Jesus loves faith!  He seems attracted to it, He delights in it and responds to it.  Faith is believing God when there isn’t anything to grasp onto, isn’t anything to see as yet.  Faith has a focus, an object and so you cannot have faith in nothing.  When it comes to God, the object, the focus of our faith is God Himself and His faithfulness, His ability to transform a situation, heal a person and faith that He wants to do so.  

In Mark 5:21-43 we meet an important Jewish man, named Jarius who had reached a point of faith in Jesus.  We don’t know what exactly his journey had been, we don’t know exactly what he had seen and heard of Jesus but he had seen or heard enough to believe that Jesus was both able and willing to respond to individual people’s requests.  And because of this faith, this synagogue ruler came to Jesus in front of a crowd of people and threw himself at Jesus’ feet, an action that showed his desperation, desire, humility and belief that Jesus could, even would heal his little daughter.

“Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.” (vs23)

What a statement of faith!  Effectively this man was saying; ‘Jesus I know that if you lay your hands on my little girl she will be healed of this life threatening condition.’  His confident faith is the reason he is in the dust and dirt before a crowd at Jesus’ feet.

Jesus seemingly can’t resist such faith.  Mark simply records; “And He (Jesus) went with him” (vs24).  As they go to his daughter the crowds are pressing in around Jesus, they too have some measure of expectation now – ‘what will Jesus do, let’s go and see’…

In the midst of the throng is another person with faith pulsating inside her which is remarkable really.  Remarkable because she has been repeatedly hopeful then frustrated and disappointed for 12 years with countless physicians at great financial cost attempting to help her but to no avail.  Now she is left impoverished with a condition that had worsened rather than improved (vs26).

But she had faith in Jesus.  Because she ‘had heard the reports about Jesus’ (vs27) and so she pushed through the crowd and touched Jesus’ garment believing that if she could only touch His garments she would be healed (vs28).

And in an instant she was dramatically and instantly healed, she felt it happen to her, and so did Jesus in the midst of the commotion of the crowd pressing around Him.  He stops and wants to meet the person who touched Him with faith…  She comes forward and Jesus says to her; “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” (vs34)  Jesus loves it when we trust Him, when we anchor our faith in Him, in His ability and in His willingness to transform our situations!

The passage concludes with Jesus going on to raise Jarius’ daughter from the dead as she passed away while He was enroute.  Jarius’ faith is rewarded, the woman’s faith is rewarded…

What do we learn from these encounters?  God loves faith!  

God-Moments God Created (Mark 6:45-52)

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In Mark’s Gospel account, just after Jesus multiplied the five loaves and the two fish to feed the thousands, Jesus then encouraged the disciples to get into a boat and travel to the other side of the Sea of Galilee while He stayed to dismiss the crowd.

Jesus created this God-moment!  He did so by sending the disciples on before Him so that He could then walk by them on the water.  Why? 

Was it so that He could continue to answer their question recorded in Mark 4:41; “Who then is this; that even the wind and the sea obey him?” which had not yet fully answered by Him?

Do you ever get that feeling?  Like God has organised things, events, timing, meetings with people, conversations and there is more going on that what’s maybe visible on the surface…?  God does this all the time actually. 

Here in Mark 6, we get to observe from the outside – and so it is relatively easy to spot God’s hand in the circumstances.  However, it is not always so easy when we are in the thick of it.

Why did Jesus create these circumstances?  Jesus wanted His disciples to know Him, to know His deity, His power over creation and the laws of nature (multiplying food, walking on water, healing diseases…).  And so Jesus sent them ahead in a boat, fully intending always to catch them up by walking across the water, walking past them (vs48) so that they could see Him.

And when they do see Him, their first thought is not; “Hey Jesus!”  Their first thought is more like; “WHAT!  A Ghost!”  Aren’t you and I like that? 

We are all too often filled with fear not faith, doubt not delight.  If they had been on land they would have probably run for their lives, but they were captive on that boat, captive to the circumstances.  Sometimes we are in the midst of a circumstance God Himself has orchestrated but we don’t see God or His handiwork, we just see dimly and have a tendency to freak out like they did.

Jesus didn’t want to make them afraid, and God’s not playing with your emotions either.  And so, as soon as Jesus sees their fearful terrified response He spoke to them calling out to them; “Take heart, it is I.  Do not be afraid!”  

Friend, God is always with you, even when you can’t see Him obviously, even when you can’t feel His presence or hear His voice above the storm and the winds of life.  In those moments remember what God has promised; “never will I leave you and never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5) and “I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20)! 

So call out to Him, He is there and when you do call God will come rushing to you and will speak to you, comforting you as He comforted them with His words of affirmation, with His presence (Jesus climbed into the boat with them – vs51).

Just like the other storm which was calmed by Jesus authoritative words (Mark 4:35-41), this storm too suddenly abated and peace was restored.  The disciples are dumbstruck, they are in awe and wonder, astounded (vs51) at who Jesus really is – God almighty.

God arranges moments in our lives that will help us to see Him more clearly, moments that will demonstrate who He is to us in ways that no sermon or song could ever convey. 

So, next time there is something of a storm in your life, ask yourself whether God might be in the storm in some way?  Ask whether God might be wanting to reveal something more of Himself to you?  Call out to Jesus, He is there with you already, but He will come rushing to show Himself to you and to speak words that calm you just like He did for the disciples.  Trust Him that He can silence wind and calm waves with one whisper of His voice.  Worship Him, be amazed at Him, trust Him, grow in your love and knowledge of Him continually.  Amen.

Disqualified? Qualified! (John 4:1-45)

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Life is a sequence of many moments isn’t it? Yet not all moments are equal in their importance for our lives. Some of the moments in our lives are what one could call; ‘God-moments’. These are moments, which are often unexpected in which radical change can happen, faith can be birthed or strengthened, in which we can learn something new about ourselves, God or others.

Today, God wants to bless you. This devotion could be a God-moment in your life. God wants to bless you, to encounter you, change your view of Him, to change you, to pour His love into you, wants to heal and restore you…

Back to the story, this woman at the well is about to have an unexpected God-moment in her life as she comes to draw water at the well but finds Jesus there! After some interaction about Jesus’ thirst, Jesus’ offered her water that would satisfy her thirst forever, she then asked Jesus to give her this water so that she would never thirst again.

Jesus knowing everything about her, asks her about her husband, asks her to call him. She didn’t want to talk about these things, it’s too personal, she tries to cover up this sad aspect of her life. We are often like this woman aren’t we? At first she resisted God’s loving, kind advances, and she tries to hide from the King of Glory. But He’s all-knowing, He knows about all 5 of her previous husbands & He knows of her current sinful relationship with the man who is not her husband but whom she is with.

At this point you might expect Jesus to draw back. After-all, she has been exposed and it’s messy. Yet,
amazingly, graciously, God still pursues her as He pursues you and I. Amazingly, what God knows about you and I doesn’t cause Him to re-coil and run from us.

Yet Jesus stays with her keeps pursuing her in this moment and reveals to her that He is the Messiah (vs26). God accepts us as we are, warts and all, God wants to transform us from who we have been and who we are today into worshippers who will worship in Spirit and truth!

And so in this God-moment the woman has a revelation of God, a revelation of the grace, mercy & forgiveness of God. What she thinks about God, what she knows is re-written in a moment as God reveals His true character to her in this God-moment…

You might have thought that her past and her present disqualified this lady. And yet actually her mess strangely qualified her to speak to others about who God is and what God is like! Having slinked out of town to come and get water, ashamed, at a time when not many others would be there.

Having met Jesus though she runs back into town effectively shouting; ‘Come and see a man who told me everything that I ever did, I think He is God!’ This woman’s shame actually became her proof of who God is! Her shame was what qualified her to testify to who God is and what God is like. In that God-moment, her sin became her God-story of redemption which in turn then showed off the grace, love & mercy of God to her whole town.

In one sense, you and I can’t be entrusted by God to share with others about Him until we have received, encountered, grace from God towards us first. Receiving grace from God qualifies us to tell others about God’s grace and mercy.

God’s grace is that He accepts us, just as we are, warts and all. God accepts us not on the basis of our merit but on account of His goodness and His lavish grace and kindness to us in Jesus. Although Jesus knew every sordid thing about this woman, He still accepted her and forgave her! Jesus came to seek and save the lost, He didn’t come for those who think they’re doing just fine, stuck in their self-righteousness, He came for sinners like me, like you…?

The end of the story is amazing. One woman’s God-moment, one woman encountering Jesus as the God of grace, results in her sharing her God-story with her town so that Scripture then records that; “Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” (John 4:39)

So what are you ashamed of? What do you feel disqualifies you from being used by God, from being God’s agent for change, His channel of grace and blessing to people? Can your sin potentially actually become a God-story which ends up showing off the God of grace?

Ask Jesus to forgive you, to pour His grace and mercy into your life right now and then go and tell the world how great and good and loving Jesus is! Needing grace, doesn’t disqualify you, it qualifies you to share with others about the incredible grace and mercy and love of God.

Free at last! [Mark 1:21-28, Mark 5:1-20 & Luke 13:10-13]

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Three passages, three encounters that Jesus had with three different people who all had different struggles with the demonic realm.  The constant is Jesus Himself and that the result of each of the people struggling under some demonic influence or another, was that they were instantly freed by Jesus!

 There are two equal and opposite errors we tend to make regarding the demonic:

  1. We give the devil and his demonic minions too much focus, fascination and airtime 
  2. Or we effectively deny the existence of the devil and demonic influence

May we always be way more focused on Jesus and His glorious victory on the cross, focussed on His resurrection and the resultant victory in which He defeated sin, Satan and death and made a public spectacle of them (Colossians 2:13-15)!  You and I as believers have no need to remain in fear, we ought not remain in a state of being influenced by or even bound by demonic forces since Jesus is our Lord.

On the other hand, to deny or to ignore the reality of the existence of Satan and the demonic realm and its ability to influence believers is to foolishly ignore clear warnings and exhortations of Scripture and to potentially allow the enemy to keep impacting you or those you love.  

These three encounters in the Gospels are so helpful as they are all so different.  Because of this, together they help us to have a balanced understanding of the whole range of types & degrees of demonic influence (‘demon possessed’ is an unhelpful translation in the NIV Bible translation as it indicates total control and has no room for degrees of influence) that is evidenced in Scripture.

The Mark 1 man (subtle under the radar influence): It seems likely that this man was influenced by the demonic to a limited degree.  I say this because he was there in synagogue seemingly unbeknown to those around him, seemingly behaving himself in socially accepted ways, until he suddenly cried out because of Jesus’ presence!  He had a demonic presence influencing him but it was undetected until the man came into close proximity with Jesus.  There are lots of things we don’t know about how this influence worked itself out in his life, did he battle with fear, depression, a destructively low-self esteem, panic attacks…….?  We don’t know, but he is helpful to us in that Scripture is clear that he had some form of demonic influence in his life – and so his example helps us to see that some demonic influence could be ‘under the radar’ because it doesn’t appear too bad, or isn’t too socially obvious.  Are there maybe things we just accept as ‘normal’ or ‘this is who I am’ but in fact it is an area in which we as believers are just not free?  The great news is that one encounter with Jesus and this man was delivered and set free from that influence.

The Mark 5 man (overt control and intense demonic influence): This man probably fits your prior notion of what a person with a demonic influence would present like.  This is an extreme case of demonic influence, even a destructive one – the great news though is that one encounter with Jesus and this man is set free and left ‘clothed and in his right mind’ (Mark 5:15) – what a contrast to the description of him just moments sooner!  No demonic influence is beyond Jesus’ instant transformation.

The Luke 13 woman (sickness attributed to demonic influence):  Jesus healed many people of sickness and most times it was not attributed to demonic influence, it was just sickness as a result of the impact of the fall on all of humanity.  However, in Luke 13, Luke (a medical doctor) recorded very specifically that this woman’s ailment had its source as being spiritual not medical, “And behold, there was a woman who had had a disabling spirit for eighteen years.” (Luke 13:11)  Jesus Himself said; “ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?” (Luke 13:16)  In our secular society and in the minds of many believers in the church today – her symptoms would not have been even considered as having a potential spiritual source!  But that is exactly what Jesus and what Scripture attributed her symptoms too a demonic influence.  The great news is that Jesus loosed the hold that this demonic influence had held over her body for these many years in an instant feeing her from her disability and the bondage brought from Satan (Luke 13:16).

Never be looking for a demon under every bush, never get fascinated with the demonic – be enamoured and amazed and secure because of Jesus.  But also never underestimate or deny the ability for demonic influence and the spiritual realm at work in lives, in minds, in bodies.  Know however that regardless of what influence their might be – we have been given all of Jesus’ authority to set people fee (Matthew 28:18-20) just like Jesus did.

The People around Jesus [Mark 2:1-12]

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Think about this setting described in Mark 2 and think about the various groups of people or individuals in the room that day and what they encountered of Jesus.  You know, how we see Jesus, what we think and believe  about Jesus in a large way determines what we will encounter of Jesus.

This moment recorded for us in Mark’s gospel is symptomatic of the types of responses that people tend to have to Jesus.  It is rare to find someone who has heard of Jesus who has no opinion regarding Him.  However, it’s those opinions that shape what people encounter of Jesus.  Praise God that Jesus is graciously reaches out and engages even with people who approach Him with hostility and unbelief.   Jesus came to seek and save the lost, came to die for and rescue His enemies – we see such a clear example of that in this passage.

So who was there with Jesus that day?  

There were;

  • Seekers who are curious and drawn to Jesus but who still have questions 
  • Skeptics scrutinizing everything through the lens of unbelief 
  • Physically sick and suffering people with varying degrees of faith and hope
  • Sinners stuck with the guilt and sin needing forgiveness & freedom  
  • Believers in Jesus delighting in Him

In one sense these groups of people are always around, when we are speaking to people about Jesus.  Whether that is in our everyday lives or even in any given Church meeting.  Consider quickly how each of these groups of people encountered Jesus on this day recorded for us in Mark 2;

  • Seekers: The gathered crowd that day must have had many like this.  They’d heard about Jesus, heard about his radical teachings, His displays of power and His love setting people free from demonic oppression and sickness.  That day they witnessed first hand that Jesus was willing to stop, to be interrupted for an individual.  They saw that Jesus is moved by faith (the faith of the four friends here) and that Jesus has authority to forgive sinners from their sin and to heal their physical sickness too. More than that they witnessed that Jesus was discerning, that He knew the hearts of everyone in the room and attempted to help the skeptical overcome their barriers to faith.  Seekers must have felt drawn closer to Jesus this day, we know this crowd dispersed amazed in the end saying things like; “we never saw anything like this!” (vs12)  May those who encounter Jesus in us, touch something of His love, His grace, His discernment, hear of His offer of forgiveness and encounter His power over sickness through us.
  • Skeptics:  Can you imagine this group on that day.  They’d probably decided before they even came  to the house what they thought!  Spurring each other on in their hardening towards Jesus, these fictitious fault finders were difficult and demeaning.  Such people love to group together and amplify each other’s skepticism closing their eyes and ears to the actual evidence before them misreading or reading into everything and reaching wrong conclusions.  Jesus knew they were there all along, and yet graciously He didn’t bounce them at the door.  Jesus didn’t even rebuke them, but conclusively and graciously He answered their gripes about His authority to forgive sin by showing that He also has authority to heal!  Did they go away believing?  We don’t know.  However, may you, may I like Jesus was be resolute and yet gracious with such people too.
  • Physically sick and suffering people: we don’t know how long the paralyzed man had suffered but we know that his suffering was so great that he either could not get himself to Jesus physically or he could not do so emotionally – having maybe lost all hope.  In an instant with one command of Jesus this man’s life is transformed for the better and the sickness that defined him was banished!  Jesus as King can heal anyone, at any time.  His words have power to suspend and rewrite the effects of the curse of the fall in a moment.  Let’s keep praying for people asking Jesus to say the word and to heal and restore people.   And let us note that this is a story that would not have happened had it not been for some friends who had faith that Jesus could heal and would want to heal their mate! Let’s be such friends for Jesus loved their faith and in the end of the day they might have even been as equally happy as the man who was healed.  This man’s encounter with Jesus resulted in a life-transformed!
  • Sinners: we all have the same sin problem.  The friends defined their brothers problem as physical, Jesus redefined it showing that in fact his greatest need was spiritual was the need to be forgiven of his sins.  We easily see the physical, emotional, financial needs of people, but all people’s greatest need is to have their sins forgiven by Jesus so that they can be restored to a right relationship with God.  And putting your faith in Jesus is the only way to be forgiven.  What right now feels like your greatest need?  What do you think Jesus would say is your greatest need right now?
  • Believers: the disciples and others who had already believed in Jesus must have grown in their faith, love and awe of in Jesus that day as they watched him authoritatively and yet graciously deal with the skeptics, respond to the friends act of faith and forgive and heal the paralyzed man!  They must have felt strengthened in their faith and conviction about who Jesus was!

These groups of people are not just on the pages of Scripture but are present in our everyday lives, present in our church meetings.  May we be like Jesus to them!

Jesus: The Lamb of God [John 1:29-34]

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Who is Jesus?  What did He come to do?

John the Baptist, on seeing Jesus walking by pronounces these amazing words dripping with revelation and meaning;

“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29) 

To behold is to look, to see, to pause and observe someone or something that is especially of remarkable or impressive nature.  John saw who Jesus really was and saw His purpose on the earth and called people to stop and to consider Jesus.

Jesus is worthy of our stopping, worthy of our consideration, worthy of us giving time to meditate on this great mystery contained in these words; “the Lamb of God”.

In calling Jesus the ‘Lamb of God’, John was declaring that Jesus is the One who by His sacrificial death on the cross, will fulfil all the symbolism of the Passover lamb and other OT sacrifices (Genesis 22, Leviticus 1:1–5:19; 1 Corinthians 5:7; Ephesians 5:2; Hebrews 10:1–14).  In the OT, God’s people were delivered through the blood of a lamb that was sacrificed on their behalf.  

That sacrificial lamb in the OT, prefigured the coming of Jesus as the true Lamb of God, who lived a perfect spotless life (Hebrews 4:14-15) so that He could be sacrificed on our behalf, to forgive us for all sin for all time and to obtain final salvation for God’s people through his death, which in turn redeemed them from death, sin, and Satan (Colossians 1:13–14; Hebrews 2:14–15). 

And why do we need Jesus or anyone/anything to die for us?

Because we have all fallen short of the righteous requirements of God (Romans 3:23), everyone of us is in the same predicament.  We have sinned before God who is Holy.  But the good news John saw on that day was that Jesus came to take away the sin the world!  That’s the good news of the Gospel, that although we have all sinned, fallen short of God’s glory, we have a Saviour Jesus, who died in our place for our sin as the Scriptures say; 

23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. (Romans 3:23-25)

How incredible it is, that God in whom their was no lack, no need , loved you and I so much that He was willing to make Himself the very sacrifice that would rescue us from our sin and from His holy wrath!  Behold the lamb of God.  Jesus is worthy of worship and adoration and praise forevermore.

Changed… [Matthew 4:18-22, John 1:35-51]

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Those who encounter Jesus are changed by Jesus!  In Matthew and John’s accounts, at least 7 people have an encounter with Jesus, and in each person’s case that encounter transformed their lives forever.  

Simon & Andrew were fishermen.  Fishing and sea was their livelihood, it was what they did.  They didn’t wake each morning wondering what to do, this was their income, it was even their defining identity.  But with just one encounter, hearing Jesus’ compelling and challenging words; “follow me” they immediately left their nets, left their livelihood, left their identities as fishermen all in order to respond to Jesus.  

Shortly thereafter, their business partners (James & John) similarly hear Jesus’ call to follow Him, and Scripture says that immediately they too left their nets, their identity, even their father and their servants (Mark 1:19) all to follow Jesus.  Luke records summarily, “they left everything and followed Him” (Luke 5:11).

The Gospel accounts don’t record much conversation really.  And yet Jesus was so compelling that when He called them to follow Him, they answered and they did so wholeheartedly!  Jesus redefined each of these four men.  They had been ‘doers’, fishermen, defined by their work.  Now they were in an instant defined as ‘followers’ of Jesus, new lives, new identity…  

What did they encounter in Jesus that caused this reaction?  

John’s account of the same events is full of revelation.  John exclaims; “Behold the Lamb of God” (John 1:35).  John in that moment has truly seen who the real Jesus is.  Having spent some time with Jesus, Andrew finds his brother exclaiming; ‘we have found the Messiah’ (vs41), likewise Philip finds Nathanael and says in effect; ‘we’ve found the one the whole Law and the Prophets speak of – the Messiah’ (vs45) and Nathanael himself cries out; “Son of God!  You are the King of Israel!” (vs49).  All these people encountered the real Jesus, the King of kings, the Messiah, the got it in those moments…

Those who encounter Jesus are changed by Jesus!

None of them are left unchanged.  Jesus changes their vocations, their identities, their relationships even their names!  Following Jesus must have been exhilarating yes but it also came at with a high cost, with risk even.  All these people have to leave things, people, what they knew for the unknown of following Jesus.  They all paid a price in some way or another, and we too will be called to leave or let go at times as we follow Jesus.  

Following Jesus was costly, following Jesus came with misunderstanding from others (imagine the thoughts, feelings and questions of the father of James and John’s, imagine their families, those who worked with them and those who knew them as fishermen…), and yet they never regretted it for a moment!

Those who truly encounter Jesus are transformed by Jesus.  In fact if your life is not being transformed, if you haven’t felt the call to leave certain things behind, you have to ask whether you’ve met the real Jesus yet?

Ask Jesus to reveal Himself to you again and again, in all His glory and majesty.

Hear His words to you; “Follow me”.

What do those words require from you right now today, at this moment in your life?

Is there anything you need to leave behind in order to follow Jesus wholeheartedly?

Two Faithful People (Luke 2:22-340)

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Nothing is known really about Simeon, but Scripture describes him as a man who was waiting with expectation and hope. The NLT translation vs25-26 says of Simeon;

He was righteous and devout and was eagerly waiting for the Messiah to come and rescue Israel. The Holy Spirit was upon him 26 and had revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.

Simeon, was waiting eagerly. He believed that God would come to comfort His people by sending the Messiah. In fact he had heard God speak to him by the Holy Spirit that it was imminent, that he would not die before seeing the Messiah.

We have no knowledge of how long Simeon had waited with faith and expectation, but we know that in the period of delay, of waiting, he just kept coming (vs27) to synagogue (the equivalent of church in his day). He didn’t get discouraged waiting, he showed his faith by being consistent in coming, didn’t moan at God about delay but trusted God in it!

How do you handle delay? I urge you to keep being faithful, to keep trusting God even when you’ve had to maybe wait a long time. God is faithful. Decide to be disciplined in the delay!

More than this, he came ‘in the Spirit into the temple’ (vs27). He was like the person coming to church full of faith and expectation that He was going to see God do wondrous things, and that day recorded in Luke 2 was his day.

When Simeon met Joseph and Mary and their small child Jesus, he saw not in the natural (just another baby boy) but he saw Jesus’ destiny, he saw that Jesus was the Messiah the Saviour of God’s people (vs29-32). He picked up their child and blessed him recounting Scripture over Him speaking of His destiny, prophesying to Mary about Jesus’ future life.

All the longings in Simeon’s heart were fulfilled in a moment seeing Jesus! Now I can die in peace he said in effect (vs29). One meeting with Jesus, satisfied Simeon. Jesus is the answer to all our questions, the fulfilment of all our longings, Jesus is the One who alone can and does save those who trust in Him.

Luke tells us of another person who met Jesus that day in the Temple, an old woman called Anna. Anna was a prophet, she had lost her husband many years ago and was now 84yrs old but she too, recognised who Jesus really was when she encountered Him and so she exclaimed the truths about Jesus to those listening (vs38), telling them of who He really was.

Simeon and Anna are such examples of long-obedience, long-suffering faith, and the joy of encountering the real Jesus.

Jesus is all you need. The good news is you don’t need to wait for Jesus like Simeon or Anna did. So, why not reach out to Jesus now, call on Him, speak to Him in prayer. Jesus is so willing and ready to meet with you and to speak with you and to transform your life.

This link is to a song Michael Card wrote about this moment if you want to listen to it – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rBZiPRPogn0

Simeon and Anna were patient in waiting for God to do what God had promised.  Is there something you are tempted to give up in, tempting to stop trusting God for?  Why not come again to God and to ask Him to fill you with the Holy Spirit and to give you the heart that Simeon and Anna had.