Healing

Wishful Thinking? (Philippians 1:18-30)

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These lines penned from prison reveal a world-view so foreign to the secular humanistic world-view the current-day media is saturated with. Paul’s musings regarding his imprisonment and the prospect of dying as a captive can help us navigate thoughts concerning healing and or life and death itself.

Paul rejoiced that the Philippians were praying for him. More than this, he was confident that their prayers for him and the help of the Holy Spirit would result in him being delivered (Philippians 1:18b-19). But was this a vain hope, just wishful thinking?

Biblical Christianity is nothing like wishful thinking!  

I love how another hero of the faith is described by Paul in his letter to the Roman believers. Abraham faced the fact that his and his wife’s bodies were as good as dead (being about 100yrs old) and therefore not able to conceive a child. But in the face of the biological facts before him, Abraham chose to believe what God had promised him (that they would have a son) because he was ‘fully convinced that God is able to do whatever He promises’ (Romans 4:21).

Abraham and Sarah didn’t have a son because of wishful thinking, or the power of positive words, they had a son because they believed God’s word to them in spite of what the circumstances around them were shouting.

Similarly, Paul’s confidence about his being delivered from his Roman prison wasn’t wishful thinking or positivity but was rooted in a biblical world-view. Paul was confident that he would be delivered/saved (same underlying Greek word) from prison either in this life or in the next life.

We know this from the context of the rest of the passage (Philippians 1:18-30). Paul had not tied all his hope to this present life. Paul didn’t know whether his deliverance would be in this life or the next but what he was confident about was that Jesus would deliver/save him ultimately.

So he muses about whether he would rather be delivered from prison in this life or whether he would rather be delivered from prison by going through death into eternal life with Christ (Philippians 1:19-23). If he is delivered in this present life, he will live his whole life for Christ (vs21) and if he is delivered through death into eternal life, he will gain for then he will be with Christ in eternity which is far better than the present life (vs21&23).

The biblical perspective on display here in Paul regarding life and death is so contrasted to the secular humanistic perspective! During a global pandemic, people are being forced at present to face up to their mortality and that of those they love.  

What we believe about life, death & eternity directly impacts how we live in the present. If you believe that life simply ends in death, you will have neither a concern about life after death/eternal consequences and you will cling on to this life since it is all there is.

What is striking in this passage is that the apostle Paul is not clinging on to this life at all. But why? He is not suicidal or depressed; he is confident! So what is he confident of?

He knows that life doesn’t end in death; death is not a termination but a transition to eternal life for the believer in Jesus. He is confident that death will be swallowed up by victory & immortality, the perishable will be raised imperishable (1 Corinthians 15:35-58).  

And so he is confident that even if his imprisonment ends in death not release back to freedom in this life, that death will be his deliverance since death can only transition him, promote him into eternal life with Jesus Christ! And that is not wishful thinking for the apostle Paul; it is so real that if he allowed himself to think selfishly, his preference would be to be delivered from the prison he is in into life after death rather than back to freedom in the present day.

So how does this relate to life and death for us?

God wants you and me who have believed in Jesus to live with a rock-solid assurance and peace even in the face of a global pandemic that comes from knowing two things;

  1. God knows the day and the hour that He will end this present earthly life of ours. The day of our death is an appointment we can not be early or late for and one we cannot reschedule or delay. No amount of anti-ageing cream or anti-oxidants or gym sessions will prolong our lives one minute longer. God alone gives life, sustains life and ultimately ends our earthly lives on a day He determines (Job 12:10, Job 14:5 & Psalm 139:16). And so that makes us immortal until the day Jesus returns or calls me home to be with him.
  2. Life doesn’t end in death; rather, death is swallowed up by life (2 Corinthians 5:4) for the believer in Jesus. And so, death is not a termination of life but a transition to eternal life for the believer in Jesus. This is not wishful thinking; it is confident hope in Christ Jesus!

And how does this all relate to healing or lack thereof?

Just like Paul was confident that he would be delivered by Jesus, so too, we can declare boldly that every single believer in Jesus who is sick will be healed. What we don’t know is whether that healing will be in this life, extending and improving it in the present day or whether it will be in death and resurrection to a new glorious body fit for eternity (1 Corinthians 15:35-58). We know that in the new heaven and the new earth there will be no more sickness, sadness, suffering, disease or death, no more tears and no more pain (Revelation 21:3-5) and so we know that ultimately every single believer in Jesus will be healed.

So although it is good to ask God for healing in the present, Jesus encouraged us to do so, and although God does heal people today (I have seen it), let’s be like Paul was regarding his deliverance from prison if it seems like God isn’t healing us or the person we have been praying for.

Paul’s biblical world-view produced such certainty and peace in him that from these lines penned from prison to the Philippians, he really didn’t seem bothered by whether his deliverance was in this life or in the next at the return of Jesus. What a liberating way to live, no fear of death, no wrestle with God over why God hasn’t done what we want him to do for us in delivering us from this or that…

Rather just settled confidence, peace and security that all flow from faith in Jesus which is immoveable (1 Corinthians 15:58). May you, may I navigate this present life and these perplexing and potentially worrisome times with the very same confidence and assurance we see in the apostle Paul in the lines of this letter penned from prison.

Gareth is one of the elders at Reconciliation Road Church in Amanzimtoti, South Africa – click the link to get more information about our church.

Life Intersections (Mark 10:46-52)

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I love how in the Bible, we have a record of people just like you and me who encountered the living God. From these encounters, we can learn all sorts of things about God, faith and ourselves. In Mark 10:46-52, there is an encounter between Jesus and a man called Bartimeaus. 

Jesus and his band of followers, plus the usual crowd of onlookers arrive in Jericho. Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem with the events of the Passion ominously on the horizon.  

They stop in at Jericho, and as Jesus was leaving a man called Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. 

47 And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48 And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49 And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.” 50 And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51 And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” 

And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” 52 And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way. (Mark 10:46-52)

Two paths intersecting 

Here we have two people’s paths intersecting! This happens in life all the time – people on different life journey’s, who share a moment when their life-journey’s collide.

In this intersection we have Jesus, incarnate Son of God, the centre of a crowd for the past three years, famous or infamous depending on how well you knew Him, passing Jericho on his way to Jerusalem to die for the sins of all of humankind and rise again!

And we have Bartimaeus, a seemingly insignificant resident of Jericho. This man’s name is a shocker! Bartimaeus means; ‘son of unclean man’! Not exactly flattering is it – sounds like his dad didn’t have a good reputation. More than this, Bartimaeus is identified in Scripture simply as a “blind beggar”, sitting by the roadside – what a complicated, painful identity.

But on this day recorded in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus and Bartimaeus’ life-journey’s are about to intersect! Seemingly insignificant, helpless, hopeless Bartimaeus is about to have his best day in a long time if not ever!  

He is about to meet God.

What about your life journey and God?

  • Do you maybe identify a little with Bartimaeus?
  • Do you feel insignificant, like people and life are passing you by?
  • Do you feel any sense of shame or remorse, regret?

Each of us has our own story. But today might even be your unique moment where you and God – intersect in a remarkable moment! I think of all my friends who don’t yet know Jesus, a day like today could be THEIR DAY!

Moving from knowing to encountering

Bartimaeus had heard about Jesus; he knew of Jesus. He knew his name, some of His titles. But now all of a sudden, Jesus was actually there, right in front of him! There are moments in our lives like that aren’t there?  

Mine was at age 8 in my bedroom praying and giving my life to Jesus. Then again at age 12 on a youth camp, during worship being prayed for and being filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, and then many times since…  

Christ-followers are people who have all had a moment and then subsequent moments where knowing about Jesus became KNOWING HIM & ENCOUNTERING HIM personally. Knowing Jesus is right there with you, knowing you can call out to Him and that when you do He will answer you personally.

In a country like South Africa, there are many people who know about Jesus – much like Bartimaeus did. But, knowing about Jesus is never enough to save you from your sin. What’s needed is not just more knowledge but rather a personal encounter with Jesus.

If you are already a Christ-follower, call out to Jesus again today, you can know that He wants to encounter you again and again.

Bartimaeus calls out (vs47)

Bartimaeus believed something about Jesus. We know this because if he didn’t believe something about Jesus, then calling out to Jesus as he did would not have made any sense.

After all, it makes no sense appealing to someone to help you if you don’t believe they have the ability or power to help you.  

If I need help with woodwork I don’t call my friend Antony; I call Warren! I don’t call out to my friend Robert for medical advice – no, I call Wade or Nkanyiso two of the specialist doctors in my life…  

When we decide to call out to someone for help, intrinsically there is embedded in that call a hope or even more likely a belief that they can help us in our need or else it is pointless.

We don’t know precisely what Bartimaeus knew about Jesus, but what He knew was enough for Him to cry out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” vs47

‘Jesus’ is the name God told Joseph to give the child Mary miraculously carried from God. “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)

Jesus’ name is also His role, His mission; it’s what Jesus came to do. He will save people from their sins – that’s what His name means. When you call on Jesus, you are calling out to the Saviour of the world.

Bartimaeus also called out using the title, ‘Son of David’ – a title that points to the fact that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah (deliverer) promised hundreds of years before.

By calling out to Jesus using these names and asking Jesus for ‘mercy’ reveals something of WHO Bartimaeus believed Jesus was.

Bartimaeus had a need, but he also knew that he didn’t deserve anything. So Bartimaeus appeals to Jesus for Mercy – undeserved favour.  

Like Bartimaeus, none of us can say that we deserve anything from God! Not even on our best days are we good enough to deserve anything. Our need unifies us, and what we all need is grace and mercy from God! 

The GOOD NEWS I have for you and I today is that as Jesus Himself said; that He didn’t come for those who thought they’d done well in life or those who thought they were ‘good with God’ because of their exceptional behaviour. No, Jesus came for those who knew they needed MERCY.

Christ-followers are those who have had an encounter with God and who know that God hasn’t accepted them because they are good enough, but rather that God has accepted us because we cried out to Jesus for MERCY!

So if you need help, firstly you need to call out to someone who CAN HELP, but secondly, you also need to be sure that they WANT TO HELP you. After all, no one wants to be left hanging, rejected in public.

Bartimaeus heard Jesus was close by, and He cried out to Jesus for mercy! He had heard enough about Jesus to make him believe that not only COULD Jesus help him but also that Jesus WOULD WANT to help him…

Maybe he had heard about the woman who reached out to touch him in the crowd or the centurion who wanted his servant healed or the dad who wanted his son set free…

He believed Jesus wouldn’t leave him hanging, leave him on the side of the road rejected. So Bartimaeus calls out to Jesus loudly!

But many rebuked him (vs48)

Those around him didn’t like Bartimaeus’ calling out to Jesus! He was told to “shut up” basically, shunned, frowned upon…  

You know, often for you to get to Jesus, you have to push through some opposition. This opposition can come from one of three sources:

  • Your own voice (doubts/fears/ungodly beliefs)
  • The voice of others (unbelievers, mocking, media, the age we live in…)
  • The voice of the deceiver and enemy of your soul

But Bartimaeus wasn’t having any of it – ‘But he cried out all the more’ it says. What about you? Will you press past the obstacles between you and Jesus? The opinions of others? Your own internal obstacles to faith in Jesus, the questions you have, your fears? Will you press past the Devil’s stumbling blocks designed to keep you from calling out to Jesus?

Be like Bartimaeus. Cry out to Jesus, don’t stop, press past the opposition, you won’t be disappointed.

Jesus stops (vs49)

I love this part of this God-encounter. Jesus stopped.  

He stopped, for the seemingly insignificant, blind beggar crying out to Him at the moment that their journey’s intersected.

51 And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” 52 And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way. 

Today you need to know that you matter to God. Jesus will stop if you call just out to Him. Those around you who don’t yet believe in Jesus need to know this about Jesus too! That if they just call out to Him, He will stop for them.

More than that, in His incredible gracious generosity, Jesus will not just stop, but He will ask you what He can do for you – what love and what authority! Jesus is not limited in any way He can offer to do whatever is needed.

Bartimaeus’ most apparent need was his blindness. We often have needs we are most aware of. For you maybe it is a job, finances, a true friend, a husband or a wife, or for someone you love to be healed.

And yet, Jesus knows our greatest need. Our sin & shame to be dealt with once and for all taken away

So that we can have a life-giving relationship with Him!

All He asks from us is for FAITH in Him. Not even’ lots of faith’ just faith… Even a little faith. Because it is not your faith that saves you, heals you, but WHO that faith is in!

Bartimaeus’ life journey intersected with Jesus in a moment. He called out with faith to Jesus, and Jesus stopped, and offered to meet His need and did exactly that in an instant.  

And so, Bartimaeus was healed physically but more than that He was also healed spiritually & so he became a Christ-follower from that day onwards. (vs52)

Every Christ-follower is a little like Bartimaeus. Each one has in their own unique way had an intersection moment with Jesus, has called out to Jesus, has put their faith in Jesus and has found Jesus stopped for them and answered their call. And Christ-followers don’t stop there but like Bartimaeus follow Jesus from that point onwards in their lives.

Today might well be a moment where your life journey and God intersect with each other either once again, or even for the very first time.

Will you call out to Him who will STOP & will MEET YOUR DEEPEST NEEDS?

Gareth is one of the elders at Reconciliation Road Church in Amanzimtoti, South Africa – click the link to get more information about our church.

Authority, Demons & Healing (Mark 1:21-34)

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Authority

Authority, who has it and how they use it is a massive topical issue right now.  

In the USA, we have sadly witnessed the murder of George Floyd by a man supposedly in authority. In shocking moments like this, countries look to people in all the various realms of authority (politics, community, business, churches…) to say something or do something. In addition, we have witnessed that if a country or community believe those in authority have misused their authority – they are prone to rebel against all authority.

In our own South Africa, late yesterday, we heard that the judicial authority in our country had declared our Government’s authority in promulgating Level 3-4 regulations unconstitutional as the Bill of Human Rights has been compromised. Here we have Government trying to use its authority for the good of our nation, but citizens appealing to the judicial authority to resist or reform the Governing authority.

Authority! It’s a big issue and always has been. In Mark 1:21-34, we see real authority on display, good authority being exercised, the authority that blesses individuals and a community.

Jesus walks into ‘church’ (a meeting in the Synagogue actually) and stands up to teach the congregation who are present. Those who teach from the Scriptures have some authority as they help people to understand and apply the authority of God’s word for their lives.

But when Jesus starts preaching, which is something very normative in this context, all those present that day are astonished. There is something very different about this teacher; Jesus is unlike those they are used to hearing. Their position or role, their activity is the same as Jesus’, but He is preaching ‘with authority.’ (vs22)

I’m so glad this wasn’t my church. The contrast drawn by the congregation that day was between Jesus and their normal teachers – gulp. And, the contrast was notable as Mark’s Gospel records; ‘And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes’ (vs22)

Good authority used well isn’t repulsive to human beings, quite the contrary. These people were drawn to Jesus’ authority even though the things He was saying weren’t all affirming and cushy! Remember what Jesus was preaching; “Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.'” (Mark 1:14-15)  

Jesus wasn’t a people-pleaser saying what people wanted to be said, that’s not what drew people to Him. Real authority often has to make decisions or lead in ways which are for the good of those they are leading but won’t always be liked.  

When we encounter good authority, I believe that we are drawn to it, and it brings us peace and security. These people willingly gave themselves to Jesus’ authentic authority and therefore listened to His teaching.

In a church context, church leaders (elders) have authority;

  • If they have been called & gifted by God to lead.
  • And if that local congregation have recognised that calling and gifting as God’s gift to that local church and their personal lives
  • If they teach and always lead from the fountain of authority that is everlasting – Scripture
  • And if those elders use the authority that God’s entrusted to them for the benefit and blessing of God’s people and not for any personal gain

Pray for your church, pray that God would bless your church with leaders who are truly called not just placed in their position by some organisation, but hand-picked by God and called by God to lead and to teach and to love and care for your church. Pray that they would not say what itching ears want to hear, but that they would stand on the authority of God’s Word, always faithful to the Scriptures and in so doing will protect and bless that church for generations to come.

Lastly, a short exhortation from Scripture to anyone who is in a church; “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” (Hebrews 13:17) 

The demonic realm and demonic influence

Those present on that day didn’t just hear a great sermon which came with authority because it was rooted in Scripture; they witnessed power over the demonic realm.

I have always been fascinated by this guy sitting in ‘church’ with a demon influencing his life. He was sitting there not entirely free but in some form of demonic influence or bondage. How did this demonic influence manifest itself in his life? Was it a perpetual fear or a constant struggle with depression… What we know is that it doesn’t seem to have been too obvious otherwise he probably wouldn’t have been welcome in the meeting.

But on this day when Jesus, the King of kings, walks into the room immediately that under-the-radar-demonic-influence in his life suddenly surfaces! The guy who’s probably never said a word in ‘church’ (Synagogue actually) suddenly shouts out; “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.”

Yikes! I have had a few moments like this in church when someone blurts something out that is socially not cool in what suddenly becomes a very public and awkward moment. I wonder whether this guy was the most surprised of everyone!

Authority. The demon or demons influencing this guys life know who Jesus is, and they know that Jesus has real authority. The people listening to Jesus’ teaching have just encountered His authority in His bold proclamation, but the demon(s) knew Jesus and knew his power.

We know this because of what they say to Jesus. They know who Jesus is, they know where He came from, they; know Jesus has the power to destroy them; they know that this man standing teaching these people is GOD! They know that He is the King of kings with absolute and total authority over them.

And so Jesus uses His authority to bless this man under the influence of the demonic realm and sets him free with just these words; “Be silent, and come out of him!” (vs25) Real authority doesn’t have to shout.

I love the fact that there is no show-down here, no titanic battle. Jesus’ authority so far outstrips any power of the demonic realm that they have to obey and leave the man alone – free at last.

There is so much we could say about the demonic realm and Jesus’ authority which He has now invested in us His followers to relieve people from demonic influence but time & space doesn’t permit.  

However, in summary, may we see how much authority we have in Jesus’ name to set people free from all forms of demonic bondage and influence (John 14:12-14). May we not be blind to the demonic realm, and may we not be fixated on it either. May we simply be in awe of Jesus and ready to proclaim Jesus’ authority in lives and situations that need it for people to be free indeed.

Healing

Lastly, in Mark 1:29-34, we see Jesus’ authority over sickness as He heals Peter’s mother in law and then many in the town of Capernaum.

News of Jesus’ teaching with authority and Jesus’ act of supernaturally and simply setting the man free from all demonic influence spread like wildfire so that by the time evening came ‘the whole city was gathered together at the door’ (vs33)!

What drew them? Fascination no doubt, but I believe that for the sick and struggling and those suffering under the various physical and psychological maladies resulting from demonic influence what really drew them to Jesus was hope. Hope that was awakened because Godly authority was present. They had hope that they could be freed from their sickness and bondages.

Mark’s Gospel records what must have been amazing scenes. Just imagine the whole city outside a house, a gathering of onlookers and those suffering greatly. Picture Jesus, coming out the house, and speaking to people one by one simply with no histrionics but with his real authority as King of kings being displayed for all to see. Picture the tears and exclamations of joy as MANY are set free from their pain and sorrow and oppression.

What a joyful time it must have been! This is a moment when we see the coming Kingdom breaking into the present. This is what we ought to pray for an expect every day, people being released from pain and suffering in the authority of Jesus name. Amen

Healing Tears (Psalm 6)

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1 O Lord, rebuke me not in your anger, nor discipline me in your wrath. 

Do know that feeling? When you’ve done something deserving of punishment or someone’s anger – you deserve what is coming, and you know it. David seems to know that he has done something worthy of a rebuke.

The opening words of this lament is a frank acknowledgement that he is appealing to God asking for grace. David knows, that God never disciplines those He loves in unhinged anger, after all, then God wouldn’t be righteous or loving.

Rather, God disciplines His people because He loves us (Hebrews 12:5-11) and because of that unchangeable truth if and when God chooses to discipline us it is for our good, for our training.

The motive is not anger or frustration, and the aim is not punishment but loving training. And so, like David, when next we feel God’s discipline we don’t need to worry as His beloved children whether He is angry with us, we know the motivation for God’s actions towards us – and it is always His love.

 2 Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing; heal me, O Lord, for my bones are troubled. 

So David’s appeal is for grace. He knows that he doesn’t deserve anything; he is not standing on his rights but simply asking for grace. Grace is getting what we don’t deserve, which in this case sounds like mercy which is not getting what you do deserve!

David’s plea to God is not from a place of strength but acknowledging his weakness. He is languishing, his strength is failing him, and he has no hope of resuscitation.

Do you know that feeling? When the trouble you are in is so great that your bones feel uneasy, troubled. And so David, in addition to grace, appeals to God to heal him, to make him whole again. Only Creator God can also be re-Creator God; this hopeful desperate prayer is entirely reasonable when Almighty God is the One you’re praying to! David asks for God’s healing with confidence that radiates his belief in who God is.

 3 My soul also is greatly troubled. But you, O Lord -how long? 

The big question at this point in David’s lament is; “God you see my anguish of soul, but God You don’t seem to have done anything, haven’t responded, haven’t spoken yet – LORD how much longer will You be?”

How often isn’t our Father’s perfect & loving timetable not the same as the one we had in mind! What’s needed in moments like this is trust – when we can’t see & don’t understand. Are you in a moment like this? Does your soul echo the question of vs3? Right now is the time to trust.

4 Turn, O Lord, deliver my life; save me for the sake of your steadfast love. 

It’s like David is speaking to himself in between his lines of prose. He bounces back from vs3 with another faith-filled request for God to deliver him. His confident request is grounded on the certainty he has regained that God loves him in a way that is utterly steadfast and immoveable.

 5 For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who will give you praise? 

Remembering God’s love, it feels like David’s lament for grace, healing and deliverance becomes a cheeky logical prayer argument. David says to God; “Listen I’m of more use to You alive than dead! After all God; if I’m dead I won’t be able even to remember You, and if I’m dead I can’t give you praise from down there in Sheol – so you might as well save me while You still can LORD.”

God can handle it all, though! God can handle our questions, our praise, our logic and our nonsense.

 6 I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping. 7 My eye wastes away because of grief; it grows weak because of all my foes. 

Lament is exhausting, strength-sapping. David has cried so much that his couch is drenched. The continual river of tears have left their mark on his eyes & wearied him.

 8 Depart from me, all you workers of evil, for the Lord has heard the sound of my weeping. 9 The Lord has heard my plea; the Lord accepts my prayer. 10 All my enemies shall be ashamed and greatly troubled; they shall turn back and be put to shame in a moment.

Lament is replaced by confidence, David has reached the point in his lament where in his heart he knows that God has heard his cries and has accepted his prayer.

In once sense, nothing has changed, and yet nothing is the same. David is now certain that he and his God are reconciled since God has heard and accepted his request for grace & healing. And so David commands his enemies with the confidence of one who knows – God is on my side! The uncertainty of the future has become certain in an instant. No more details of the future are known, but this unshakeable truth is now certain – God is with me!

_____________________

Gareth is one of the elders at Reconciliation Road Church in Amanzimtoti, South Africa – click the link to get more information about our church.  

Vindicated! (Numbers 17)

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Who hasn’t felt the pain of being misrepresented or misunderstood? Many leaders have known the uncomfortable feeling of not being trusted or feeling confident in your leadership slip or even being challenged. Added to the pain and pressure of such moments are your own internal struggles and doubts which only get amplified by the enemy.

Times of pressure, moments when there are delays, setbacks or significant obstacles often heighten these dynamics. The context leading up to Numbers 17 was that God’s people had grumbled against God and His appointed leaders for bribing them out of Egypt, they had doubted and feared rather than trusted God, there had been internal leadership squabbles and outright rebellion and questions raised continually about who should lead.

In moments like these, it is often inappropriate and ineffective, trying to vindicate yourself. Managing the perceptions of others is not only exhausting; it is impossible in the long run. In a wise, lucid moment the apostle Paul reflecting no doubt on some situations from his own life and ministry said this with fatherly wisdom;

“Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord’.” (Romans 12:19)

RT Kendal reflecting on this passage advises that we often want to vindicate ourselves, take revenge, make our point, and we could choose to do so, but that is very unwise. It’s like God then says; ‘Oh you want to vindicate yourself! Go ahead and try but you’ll mess it up and end up sinning.’ Rather Kendal says God’s wisdom is to leave vengeance and the desire to vindicate oneself to Him and to His timing.

In Numbers 17, we see God doing exactly what Romans 12:19 promises He will do, as He vindicated Aaron’s ministry as head of the priesthood in a remarkable, public and miraculous way! God’s intent was to stop the discontent & grumbling which doesn’t help those leading or those following;

“The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Speak to the people of Israel, and get from them staffs, one for each fathers’ house, from all their chiefs according to their fathers’ houses, twelve staffs. Write each man’s name on his staff, 3 and write Aaron’s name on the staff of Levi. For there shall be one staff for the head of each fathers’ house. 4 Then you shall deposit them in the tent of meeting before the testimony, where I meet with you. 5 And the staff of the man whom I choose shall sprout. Thus I will make to cease from me the grumblings of the people of Israel, which they grumble against you.”

The key thing to notice here is that this is God’s initiative, God stepped in to vindicate Aaron, to silence the discontent. Moses and Aaron were not trying to vindicate themselves (although no doubt they were glad for what God was doing) – God did it. God chose how, and God chose when it would happen – and so it was effective. A right reverence returned to the camp, respect for those God had appointed (vs12).

Remember, when we try to vindicate ourselves, we are likely to mess it up! Not the least because we should be slow to think that we have an accurate perspective on ourselves, our own heads and hearts or the situation we find ourselves in.

Wisely, Paul was cautious about judging himself as he wrote to the Corinthians, some of whom were challenging his leadership;

But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. 4 For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. 5 Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God. (1 Corinthians 4:3-5)

So, if it is God’s prerogative to vindicate, what ought you to do if you feel unjustly treated, misrepresented, falsely accused…?

Three things come to mind in sequential order:

  1. Lament – “A passionate expression of sorrow and grief” – Christina Fox. The Psalms are full of this processing raw emotions to God and leaving it with Him.
  2. Forgive – Because we have been forgiven much because this is the only pathway to health and not bitterness & because it honours God.
  3. Leave it to God – Remember that Jesus died without being vindicated! As did many of the heroes of the faith. Vindication is hardly ever on our time scale and is quite likely to be only seen in full at the return of Christ.

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.

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!

See, Love, Act (Acts 3:1-10)

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After the rousing sermon that followed the remarkable prayer meeting and the incredibly deep fellowship of the early church all recorded in Acts 2, Acts 3 has an air of normality about it as it starts.

Peter and John are about to enter the Temple complex at around 3pm in the afternoon which was the time of prayer.  The earliest believers had been raised all their lives up to the present of Jews, and the earliest church assimilated it’s new revelations about Jesus with their habitual rhythms (like daily prayer here in the Temple complex).

At an the entrance was a man who was lame, who had been unable to walk since birth.  He was seated at the gate asking people for money considering his state.  

What do Christ Followers do when faced with human needs like; this man’s physical, emotional, financial & spiritual need?

They SEE, LOVE & ACT in faith.  

Like Jesus with Bartimaeus (see Mark 10:46-52) who stopped for Bartimaeus, Peter and John stop for this crippled man.  They SEE him, they LOVE him enough to acknowledge his presence and this action of SEEING and STOPPING must have communicated value to him. 

They didn’t just toss some coins in the dust although he would probably have been happy with that.  Rather they stopped and looked at him saying; “Look at us… Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!”

They loved him enough to stop and to see him, to recognise him as a person but then they met a deeper need than even the need he would have identified as his need.  He was asking for money, they saw past that need and saw how being crippled would never allow him to do anything except beg for money and so they reached out and acted with faith speaking life, healing & health into his body all in the name of Jesus!

Having spoken with faith, Peter then reached out in faith with his hands to lift the man up and as he did Dr Luke records that the man’s feet and ankles were immediately made strong.  Peter and John, SEE, LOVE & ACT in faith when confronted with this man’s need.

The way Dr Luke records this miracle and the sequence of events, I can’t help be wonder whether the man would not have been healed unless Peter had had the faith to pray believing God would heal, and then also having the faith to stretch out his hand to lift him up so as to take his first steps ever as a person born cripple.

What life transforming things are passing us by every day?

What would God have you do, small or large that can transform someone else’s life?

Are your ears and eyes open to the leading of the Holy Spirit?

Dr Luke knows this condition was congenital, knows it had lasted 40yrs (Acts 4:22),  and so he records the medical evidence of this wonderful instant healing in response to Peter and John’s faith and their stepping out in faith.  Dr Luke tells us three times that this man was now walking, in fact more than that he was walking and leaping!

Thomas Walker comments, ‘the power was Christ’s, but the hand was Peter’s’.  Peter and John saw, loved and acted on their faith in Jesus and this man’s life was transformed!

What does God want to do through you in the life of others?

May we be those who SEE, LOVE & ACT in faith.  Amen.

Magnificent God (2 Kings 4)

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Elisha is the one true God’s representative. In a nation divided and filled with the worship of false gods, the call on Elisha is not just to bring messages for God but to reveal who God is through his everyday life, actions and interactions.

In this chapter we see God revealed in numerous ways through a collection of short stories which all put on display God’s nature as the one who sees, a personal God, involved in the intricate details of people’s lives, who is not indifferent to the cries and the pain that individual people endure. These stories reveal God as the one who is able to miraculously suspend or overturn the normal with His supernatural inbreakings of power at any time on people’s behalf.

Short story 1: Debt (2 Kings 4:1-7)
A poor widow in crisis is struggling with mounting debts and the ongoing challenge of providing for her two children as a single woman has the debt collectors at her door threatening to take away her children as slaves as payment for her debt! Crisis. She asks God by asking Elisha and God provides miraculously an abundance of olive oil which she sells and pays off all her debt and as able to live off the rest. God is the miracle working, prayer answering, need-seeing God who intervenes in remarkable ways for poor or rich people.

Short story 2: Deep Longings & Despair (2 Kings 4:8-39)
A wealthy woman is hospitable and honouring of God’s servant, she was rich but used her wealth to bless Elisha & Gehazi not to gain anything (vs13-14). Elisha discerns the true longing in her heart, one she is not even willing to express for fear of her longing being dashed again, and so promises her a child. She is so shocked she can’t receive this good news (vs16) but she does conceive and a son is given to her. Many years later the child falls suddenly ill and dies will in the fields with his father. She rushes straight to Elisha in deep despair, she would have rather not had a son than have one and then loose one like this! Elisha goes with her, and raises the son from the dead and gives him back to her alive. God knows the deepest longings in our hearts, even the ones we dare not speak of for fear of being hurt or disappointed again or opening up the wound… God is able to bring back to life people, marriages, finances – God is good and is so whether you are rich or poor.

Short story 3: Deadly Stew & Multiplication (2 Kings 4:38-44)
There is a famine in the land, Elisha is hosting around 100 of the prophets. He wants to cook for them, but Gehazi is a bad cook or one of the prophets is injudicious in his produce selection and the stew being cooked is bad, so bad it is like death warmed up. They complain. Elisha miraculously cures the pot with a little flour and the food becomes edible to them all. While they are all there, a man brings to Elisha some of his first fruits offering to supply food for Elisha. Elisha tells Gehazi to set it before the men to eat (but there is not enough – vs43). Elisha tells him to proceed and they all ate and yet there was excess and they had food to spare. God is hospitable, able to throw feasts of abundance in the midst of a famine, able to supply all our needs according to His riches in glory (Philippians 4:19).

Our God heals, answers long-lost longings, provides financially and materially. This all makes me think of the song we sung on Sunday;

You’re my author, my maker
My ransom, my Saviour
My refuge, my hiding place
You’re my helper, my healer
My blessed redeemer
My answer, my saving grace
You’re my hope, in the shadows
My strength, in the battle
My anchor, for all my days
And You stand, by my side
And You stood, in my place
Jesus, no other name
No, only Jesus, no other name…

So, cry out to him now!  Tell your Father in Heaven your deepest longings, know that He is good and when you can’t join all the dots of your confusing life, He can and He does and so having asked Him trust Him.

Meaning Makers (John 9)

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Dallas Willard said that people are ‘meaning-makers’. We look for and or even assign meaning to things that happen in our lives. We want to know, ‘why?’ and when we don’t know why we create our own meaning.

This is what was happening in John 9. A man was born blind. Jesus’ disciples wanted to know; ‘why?’ What was the cause, did this man’s parents sin in some way and that is why this happened or did the man himself sin – why?

I had an accident – why?
I got sick – why?
I lost my job – why?
………… – why?

All too often our desire to know why, combined with our very limited knowledge, leads us towards unhelpful or inaccurate conclusions. We add 1 + 1 and end up with 22 not 2!

This man was born blind, but it wasn’t punishment or the result of some sin that he was blind, no his tough life-circumstance was simply that God’s work could be displayed in him according to Jesus (John 9:3). Something much greater than his own life/behaviour was in play here, something that he had no control over.

God was going to use this moment to reveal the divinity of Jesus to him (vs35-38) and cause him to believe in Jesus as a result. God was going to use this to show his authority, glory and power to those who would take note of what Jesus did and said.

Is there something in your life right now that you are grappling with?
Is there something that you are trying to work out, trying to find meaning in?

I urge you to put down your theories as to why this is happening or happened, and simply ask Jesus to reveal to you what He was doing, or is doing through this thing.

The man born blind, gets healed miraculously, encounters Jesus personally and believes in Jesus and worships Jesus as Lord and Saviour in this story. He must have spent his life up to this point resenting his ailment, but in this moment his ailment became the very thing that lead Him to Jesus, to forgiveness, healing & belief in Jesus and therefore salvation!

May you stop making your own meaning and may you rather ask the King of kings, Jesus to give you His meaning. And may you, trust Him when there is no answer yet, may you accept the mystery, may you trust Him that He is good, and that He loves you and that what you can’t see or know or understand – He does see, know & understand!

Behold Jesus.

What next? (Mark 16:14-20)

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Having died forsaken by all, and then having risen remarkably, showing Himself to a few and then to the whole group of His disciples Jesus then tells them what’s next. We know from other gospel accounts that Jesus told them about His imminent ascension.

But what next?
What were these followers of Jesus supposed to do now?
Go home? Go back to their old lives?
Is this the finish line or is it in fact the start line?

Jesus clearly commissions these ones who had given their lives to follow Him. Jesus tells them to “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation”.

There is no going back home, no retreat, this is not the finish-line or the end of the road! This is the start of the rest of the great adventure, the beginning of the church of Jesus Christ proclaiming what Jesus HAD DONE for anyone who believes in Him.

And whoever believes that message about Jesus will be saved, and those who are saved should be baptised. These believers (and all believers that were to follow) get equipped with authority over sickness and any demonic influence – to set people free so that they can believe in Jesus. They are promised the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the gift of speaking in tongues, they will do miraculous things in Jesus name… Jesus will empower them to do remarkable even miraculous things to confirm the message they carry about Him.

These last words are not just their mandate alone, but our mandate too. It is what the church of Jesus Christ is commissioned to do, what our individual lives ought to be taken up with (Jesus’ mandate to proclaim the good news about Him) and should be characterised by (demonstrations of kingdom power that authenticate the message).

Let’s live out this great adventure!
Believing in Jesus is just the start-line for us all, it’s not the end of the road, it’s the beginning of living the rest of our lives for Jesus and for His mission to reach the whole world.

Are you on-board?

[Theological Sidebar: Does this passage (vs16) teach that you must believe and be baptised to be saved? No. Note how although Jesus says whoever believes and is baptised will be saved, it goes on to only say that those who do not believe are condemned. Jesus does not say that those who do not believe and are not baptised are condemned. Baptism in water as a believer is a visible sign of the ]